Caregiver’s guide

Talking to your aging loved one is a challenging task. It can be even more difficult if they are in the early stages of an illness like dementia, or they are uncomfortable talking about their financial or legal affairs. Here are some tips and “starter questions” to help these conversations go a little smoother.

Remember to:

  1. Create a safe space for them to share their fears or reluctance to talk.
  2. Ask yes/no questions when it comes to questions about their independence like, “Can you climb up the stairs without help?” or “Have you forgotten to turn off the oven or stove in the last month?”
  3. Start your discussions early, before there is an urgent need.
  4. Ensure they know your goal is to document what they want. 
  5. Start small by asking about daily living tasks, working up to “the big stuff,” like end of life planning.
  6. Respect their wishes, even if yours would be different.
  7. Write down what they say, and have them review or give feedback if they are able.
  8. Include other family members in the process.


Some starter questions:

  • If you have a life-threatening illness, what sort of medical care do you want?
  • What are your fears about growing older?
  • Have you thought about how you want to be remembered?
  • If you have dementia, do you want doctors to focus on life-saving measures, or comfort measures?
  • What does a good end look like to you? Do you want to be in a hospital with doctors doing all they can, or resting at home?
  • What do your final arrangements look like?