Three Taboo Subjects to Raise with your Aging Parents

Finances, Mental Health and Sex: Three topics of conversation avoided in the calm times and poorly handled under crisis—especially when a conversation needs to take place between an aging parent and their adult child.


“I can’t believe how much it costs to get old!” was a common complaint raised at a family caregiver round table. Some parents had talked with their adult children about money issues, while others held onto the belief that money is “personal.” Not knowing your parents’ finances when it comes time to help, however, becomes one large migraine.

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, at least 70% of people over age 65 will need some type of assistance with their basic care needs. And many of the adult children with whom I work have experienced housing and professional care sticker shock. The national average for a private room in a skilled nursing home is $7,000 per month. A one-bedroom apartment in assisted living averages just under $3,500 per month, not including extra services for such things as a nurse visit or a meal brought to one’s room. Hiring a professional caregiver can run anywhere from $17 to $30 per hour, depending on the services needed. Calculating the costs of care is onerous.

I encourage you to start the conversation with your folks. Take it slow. Understand why you want to engage the money talk. Put yourself in their shoes and remember that they are your parents. How you start the conversation is not as important as that you return to it. It is not a one-time-and-done talk.

I’ve done a number of radio shows referencing money and planning for the future. Most recently I interviewed Gary Marx and Wendy Rinehart of Claim Jockey—the people you call when you think you need to “go on claim” and start using your long term care insurance. Just like hiring an accountant to file your taxes, these are the folks you’d call to make sure your long term care policy pays.

Mental Health

“Old people are lonely” is a commonly held belief. It’s not an overall truth. What is true is how difficult it is for the current generation of adults over 75 to give voice to their inner feelings. Far too often I read about older adults who have chosen to “handle their sadness on their own.” A glass of wine in the evening becomes two glasses, and a sleeping pill helps get them through the night. Alcohol abuse has become a larger issue for older adults.

Did you know that older people metabolize, or break down, alcohol more slowly than young people? Your parents may say they are drinking the same two cocktails they’ve always had, but they don’t take into account their lower tolerance because of their age.

Approaching your parents on issues of mental health—whether it be a potential addiction or depression—is tricky. Ask for help. I interviewed Nan Vest who works at The Retreat in Wayzata, MN, to help us understand how to both approach our parents with concerns and to learn about services offered to treat addictive behavior in older adults. I know you will find our interview insightful, comforting, and helpful.


Bryan Gruley of Bloomberg News appeared on the PBS News Hour to share his in-depth report on sex and assisted living residents. This is something professional staff deal with on a routine basis: can two people who have dementia consent to having sex? How would you feel if you showed up at the assisted living and found your mom in bed with the resident down the hall? And your dad is still living?

Age does not lessen our desires for personal touch and intimacy. We crave physical connection. I understand that, but when my father approached me about dating after my mother died, I was ill prepared to entertain thoughts of my dad with another woman besides my mom (Let’s face it, I really didn’t want to think about my mom and dad being intimate!)

But all these issues with intimacy get a whole lot trickier when dementia enters the picture. This Thursday I will interview Bryan Gruley and continue the conversation about sex in senior housing.

If you have stories, concerns, or questions about any of the three taboo topics, please get in touch. I’m here to help.

Categories: Caregiving Issues, Caregiving Resources, Mental Health, The Unexpected Caregiver Radio Show

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,