Generational conversation: Create a late-life plan

Caroline Dott, Ph.D.

By Caroline Dott, Ph.D.
Ageless, Inc.
Roswell, Georgia
 Member of the national ElderCare Matters Alliance,
Georgia chapter
How is it that Americans, who enjoy a relatively high standard of living, do not think about creating an equally high standard for their last stage of life?  Does it make sense that when we reach the peak of life experience, knowledge and competency, we stop planning how we will enjoy our lives to the fullest?
Without a plan, we deny the realities of our last stage of life.We fail our parents and ourselves if we do not “seize the reins” with love, creativity and energy to plan with them, and for ourselves, the most delightful late life stage possible.

What is the scope of the problem?

A 2007 study conducted with “boomer women” found that only 40% of women 45 years or older have begun planning for care their parents might need.  Only 17% considered moving their parents into a nursing home.  AARP discovered that family members provide care for 80% of those needing help with ADLs (activities of daily living, i.e., bathing, dressing, taking medications, paying bills).  The average caregiver is a 46-year-old woman who is married and works outside of the home.

Another AARP workplace survey found that caregiving workers provide average out-of-pocket expenses of $2,400 to $3,888 per year.  Further, family caregivers suffer stress including:

  • Economic loss due to work pattern changes and lost wages
  • Work/family life conflicts tripling the likelihood of quitting jobs
  • 40% report an effect on job advancement ability
  • Absenteeism and attrition, loss of productivity

A role model for midlifers, seniors

At my age-64-my mother was a widow in excellent health living alone.  Wanting to spare her family the stress she had felt raising four children and helping to care for her aging parents 500 miles away, she created a late-life plan.

She moved back to her hometown, where she lived in a spiritually-oriented retirement community with her widowed older sister for 25 years.  Dispersed in three states, we children visited frequently, monitoring her care and health.

While still competent, our mother arranged for a trusted banker to manage her finances.  She also gave General Power of Attorney to my brother and me.  She completed her Advanced Directives, providing copies to each of us.

Soon after her sister died, my mother’s mental competence began to deteriorate.  We contracted for around-the-clock inhome caregivers.  As dementia progressed in her early 90s, my siblings and I decided to move her into assisted-living connected to the retirement community.  One week monthly, each sibling called the staff to monitor her care.  When her health declined, she entered the nursing wing, where she received around-the-clock care until she died at age 95.

My mother provided a valuable role model by creating her own last stage of life, returning to her “roots” where she had long-time friends and family, memories, and a rich tapestry of activities that she enjoyed in old age.

Fantasize to start conversion

The conversation between generations can begin by fantasizing the most comfortable and fulfilling last stage of life possible, both for your parents and for yourselves.  Yes, we too, will be there one day and deserve our plan as well.

The powerful personal sharing of these fantasies opens the minds of family members to new possibilities for how they can create their last stage of living.  Such sharing frequently elicits astounding misinterpretations of what our parents and each other truly want to happen!  How poignantly significant it is to understand exactly what family members envision and desire at the pinnacle of their life!

These conversations become the foundation for creating a plan with your parents and for yourselves.

What issues must be addressed?

  • Where and/or with whom will you live?
  • What pleasurable, exciting activities will you participate in?
  • Where and with whom will you travel?
  • What experiences will you have to avoid any regrets at life’s end?
  • How will you fund your plans for the rest of your life?
  • When and how will you complete all legal transactions, such as Last Will and Testament and Advanced Directives?
  • Which family members/friends/experts will be responsible for managing your finances, medical/psychiatric, legal issues and funeral arrangements when you no longer can?
  • After making the plan, notify all participating parties, providing them with copies of documents relevant to their designated responsibility.

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