Gabriel García Márquez states it beautifully, “It is not true that people stop pursuing their dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing their dreams.” When Dad turned 90 I realized 60 was young (and I wasn’t quite there yet). Think about it, the first 30 years, you’re finding your way, the next 30 years you’re working your way and I say, use the last 30+ years to do it your way!
The mindset of the Greatest Generation was to work until you’re 65, retire, receive medicare and social security. I remember, Dad did that and within a year he was bored out of his mind and partnered with a good friend in a small exploration business. That kept him busy until he was about 80. Then he started volunteering at a church-run thrift shop weekly — he quit that when Mom got sick and she became his full time job.
As I enter my 60s I’m launching a company, working my consulting job and writing articles. I love the deadlines and the intellectual stimulation. I think we all do. That makes me think it really is up to us to stimulate our minds in ways that make sense for each of us individually. At the age of 77 Donna Shalala is running for Congress, at the age of 81 Madeline Albright is on tour for her latest book and at 93 Jimmy Carter is still relevant! Yes, they’ve chosen a national platform but being relevant in a smaller community is no less satisfying.
With today’s technology and car-ride services there is no excuse to stay at home if you want to get out. And, if you get out, you’re more relevant. I know an octogenarian amateur playwright (soon we’ll be seeing one of his summer shorts!), and several septegenerian Starbucks employees. All are happy and “pursuing their dreams.” Let’s join them!
From March 6 to April 8 of this year, I experienced five deaths of people I consider part of my life. Two were wonderful with whom who I had the pleasure of sharing some time and three were dear friends. All were under the age of 75. Only one of these deaths was from cancer — the other four were unexpected and left families and friends reeling.
There is, in my humble opinion, only one way to conquer death — live a good life. Perhaps my previous columns have been too obtuse . . . so let me make it clear — you must preplan to age gracefully and comfortably. We all have different needs and it is YOUR needs that must be met. It seems that as we age we view ourselves as less relevant but are we really?
When people talk about living a good life they discuss “paying it forward”, or being kind to your neighbors, or creating world peace in your environment. I’m pragmatic, therefore I view living a good life as being relevant and keeping my and body healthy. How do we do that? Easily, we plan. Once we begin using medicare I suggest we begin to plan for our last years — which in today’s world is 80 to 100. The longer you live, the longer you will live. But, and its a big but, we want to live it well . . . and that means having to deal with the senior care/elder care bureaucracy.
I have a plethora of columns discussing how ‘institutions’ are obstacles not cheerleaders — why – because “seniors” are not valued and easy targets. The exact opposite is the real truth – we vote, we pay taxes, our children are the current workforce and we have experience.
To that end, how do we stay relevant? It’s easy, preplan! Whether you have parents or a partner who is older you have to discuss how to stay healthy, both mentally and physically. Some of the mental health is dependent on financial health. What insurance policies are available? How many financial accounts are there? Does the home and financial accounts transfer without going through probate? These are DIFFICULT! conversations but once done provide true peace of mind.
So, I urge you to look at the non-medical side of your life and begin to ask yourself, your partner or your parents the tough questions then find the solutions so that we can all “Vive La Vida Loca.”
- Are the financial instruments in order
- Are the legal documents in order
- Is your house “too much”, does it need de-cluttering or should you move
- Are you, your partner/spouse or parents healthy
ARE YOU HAVING FUN?!?
LET’S DO THIS!
As we all now know, after Hurricane Irma fourteen elderly souls died because the nursing home in which they resided did not have a electricity after the storm. As a consequence, they “overheated” and died. Well, there is good news – the Florida Legislature and Governor have placed $37.1 billion dollars in this year’s fiscal budget to be used across six health care and social service agencies.
Florida’s medicaid program is the largest recipient at $29.2 billion and Children & Family Services receive $1.7 billion. Those living in nursing homes will receive a 25% raise, from $105/m to $130/m. Nursing homes are now required to have generators with enough fuel to cool buildings during elongated power outages. The above monies are all coming from Florida taxpayers but my favorite part of the legislation is not tax based.
Starting this fiscal year, nursing homes (that receive medicaid dollars) will be paid on a set formula. These providers must meet certain “direct patient-care” requirements as well as “quality of care” requirements. In other words, if a nursing home only meets a minimum standard, they will be paid a minimum amount and given a set amount of time in which to bring the ‘home’ up to the formulaic standard. As the homes hire more qualified staff and add amenities to its building and programs – they will receive larger payments. As one law maker put it, they have to spend money, to make money.
As a senior’s advocate I’m thrilled that our state government realized how badly these “homes” were treating their patients. Yet, it took senseless deaths to have a focus placed on how our greatest generation and aging or ailing baby boomers are treated when they can no longer treat themselves. That is where we must be more vigilant.
As I write this, I cannot help but remember the 17 people who died very prematurely at Parkland High School. And, yes, because of the deaths and the student’s activism we’ve put in some stricter state gun regulations. Also many large gun sellers are now refusing to sell to anyone under 21. Still, much like our senior citizens, why must it takes death to examine our mores and ethics.
As I’ve discussed in several articles the discussion of money is a must but can also be a monster rearing its ugly head. We’ve discussed having Powers of Attorney in place for our elderly loved ones. Most states require one for finance and one for medical — two different trusted representatives should be chosen. This allows for shared responsibility and shared communication.
Although the trusted loved one is normally fine and nothing happens, it can be a slippery slope which is why I recommend any financial moves to be as transparent as possible and shared among the siblings or trusted loved ones. The vast majority of family members rarely swindle or take advantage of their parents or elderly loved ones but it does happen and the idea of unrestricted funds can be a temptation. This is why we recommend that there be an “informal transparency” to protect your elderly loved one and you.
Following is one system to implement – one trusted representative is a signatory on the elderly loved one’s checking accounts and a second trusted representative has access to it (i.e. – given the user name and ID). When a separate account is created to pay for care, we suggest two trusted representatives on the account.
The other pitfall are the family members, friends and care takers who will try to manipulate your elderly loved one into private gifts, be it through money, credit card purchases, a car for their grandchild (we’ve seen this) or simply write them into the will. Again, this is why financial transparency is a must. If the monitoring is spread among many it is much more difficult for one to have undue influence.
The elderly community is rife with stories of hired “trusted” caretakers who steal little things — trinkets, jewelry, food and petty cash. (See my column on hiring and monitoring Caretakers). Again, anything valuable should be removed from the house and gifted to the different loved ones and/or trusted representatives. If the family doesn’t agree we suggest outside assistance in the form of attorneys and psychiatrists. I always hesitate to use either because . . . they cost money!
It’s not easy to parent your parents — it’s not a pleasant role — it means Mom, Dad or both are getting weaker and none of us want to admit the role reversal has begun.
When I consult with clients I hear time and time again — Mom doesn’t want to leave her home, Dad is not going to allow any one else to pay his bills, There is no need to force anyone — the name of the game is to persuade in an assertive, caring and respectful manner. For their sakes and yours, embrace the role!
After Mother’s decline into Alzhiemers, my brother and I were thrown into the role reversal with little or no direction. Here’s what we learned:
Accept Your Role. No one else can do it with your love so embrace it and consider it an honor. But for them, you wouldn’t’t be here.
Be Assertive. Yes, at times you will have to tell Mom or Dad (or both) what to do. Of course Mom doesn’t’t want to move from her home — you have to tell her (gently and politely) that she must. You explain the reasons, answer her questions and, as she did with you, persuade her that “this’ is the best way.
Pay Attention to the Basics. Are your parents showering regularly? Are they having regular meals? Are they taking their medication on a timely basis? If not, see above — it’s time to be assertive and decide how best to move them forward.
Insist. Or, if you prefer, be firm. When your parents resist keeping on insisting. “Dad, we have to do this, we’ve gone over it a million times – let’s not fight about it.” Again, no yelling or shoving – just gently insist.
Prepare all the financial and legal documents. Taking the helm of your parent’s finances is a daunting but necessary task. Make yourself, or your sibling, a signer on their checking accounts then have them sign a Power of Attorney for both financial and medical decisions. This must be done before they lose their mental capacity. If you don’t do this it will be much more difficult and costly when they lose their ability to make decisions.
At the end of the day, here is what you have to remember – when it comes to parenting your parents you have three choices:
- You care for your parents yourself
- You hire someone to care for your parents
- You allow them to enter a Medicaid facility
These alternatives all have pluses and minuses. Most of the decisions are based on finances and nothing and no-one is perfect so after you’ve been assertive, and insistent forgive yourself – your parents did!