There is a new generation of caregivers – the boomers, adult children now responsible for their aging parents.

And, as they always have, boomers are going to do it just a little bit differently.

“What’s new now is that we are talking about the issues and this is an important change,” says Dr. Art Ulene. “For a long time, we were caught up in silence. Parents were parents and kids were kids and never the twain shall meet.

“But now we are beginning to talk about death, beginning to recognize we adults have some control over how we are treated if we are sick or how we are going to die.”

Former NBC medical correspondent Ulene, at 72, is an aging parent. He offers these insights:

Q: Dr. Ulene, you say there are more aging parents because people are living longer. But when should parents and children start the dialogue about aging issues?

A: One of the most important concepts is the fact that you really shouldn’t wait until the parents are very old or very sick. In fact, you can’t start the discussion early enough. The ideal time to start is when everyone and everything is good.

Q: Tell us what you did in your family.

A: My wife and I have three kids – kids! They’re 41, 43 and 45 – and when we started to talk about this, they were kind of reluctant to join the discussion, which was a switch. Usually it’s the other way around, but one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to caregiving.

Q: Was there anything different about your conclusions?

A: When it came to issues about who decides for us in the event we’re not capable to decide for ourselves, we broke with tradition and chose our daughter. We gave her our advance directives for health care. Why? Because she’s a physician and is more likely to make an objective decision and follow our wishes.

Traditionally, this decision-power falls to the oldest or to the boy or to whoever lives geographically closer. That’s what’s important about “the conversation” with the kids. It needs to be worked out, in the open, so everyone feels comfortable.

Q: Do you feel better, now that you’ve had “the conversation?”

A: “The conversation” is not a single event but a constant, ongoing series of communications. Times and conditions change. The entire family needs to be prepared to change to meet these conditions.

“The conversation” needs to start slowly and be allowed to go where the parties want it to go.

Q: Who has an easier time with “the conversation?” Parents or kids?

A: Usually it’s more difficult for the parents because they want to protect their independence, status and the feeling of being in charge of their lives.

Q: If you had a single piece of advice, it would be?

A: Don’t wait to initiate this discussion. And buy the book, “Caring for Your Parents: The Complete Family Guide” by Hugh Delehanty and Elinor Ginzler. It’s an AARP publication and it deals with all the issues as well as offering sources for solutions.

Q: You said your three children have all decided they want the same piece of artwork when you and your wife are both gone. How do you handle that?

A: By leaving it up to them to decide after we are gone. It’s easier that way.

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