Talking about elder care challenges us to think ahead

Regarding Susan Reimer's recent column on elder care, while your parents may have many "talks" with you over the years none rival when the tables turn and you need to facilitate a complex conversation with your parents about elder care ("How much are they worth to you?" Oct. 9).

Even when you start the conversation, it's hard to foresee what sacrifices you and your family might have to make in caring for an aging parent over the long term. Still, those who are thinking ahead about elder care have avoided a big mistake, which is not to think about it at all.

While it's smart to initiate these conversations early and often, family dynamics can be complicated and factor into the planning process. Relationships that have taken years to evolve can be further compounded by the inherent changes in the needs and lifestyle of an older adult. Geography also plays a role in how much sacrifice each family member will ultimately make, as those in closest proximity to the aging parent will most likely have more responsibility whatever the situation.

You can set yourself and your family up for success by starting conversations about elder care with an end goal of maintaining your parent's life-long autonomy, rather than starting from a place of assuming they'll be dependent forever. While medical and emotional needs can come into play, autonomy and independence become more and more important as you age. In navigating the challenges that come with aging parents, the object is to have conversations that make a difference so family members can advocate for what the older adult wants and needs as they age.

As Ms. Reimer noted, we should talk to each other, but we should also know what we're getting into and prepare for potential roadblocks as much as possible. Family support is an important part of growing older and having conversations about aging successfully is critical to continuing positive relationships with family members.

When the quality of family life is at stake, talking about elder care challenges us to think ahead, be prepared and ultimately assure us that, in the end, we'll have no regrets.

Katie Miller, Baltimore

The writer is director of resident services at Roland Park Place, a continuing care retirement community.

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