THE PLEASURES OF OLD AGE

“Old age has its pleasures, which, though different, are not less than the pleasures of youth.” W. Somerset Maugham.   

With maturity comes an ‘ease of being.’   It’s true, we don’t stay up until the wee hours of the morning (often) but we can still have a fabulous time and be in bed by midnight.  Recently, I went to Philadelphia for my cousin’s 80th birthday celebration.  It was three full days of partying — everyone had a blast!  Yes, bed time was earlier but the enjoyment the same.

Most Assisted Living Centers happy hour starts at 3:00pm!  Personally, I loved going to Dad’s Happy Hour . . . let the party begin!  Dad and his fellow residents also loved Happy Hour and still had time for a nap before 6:00pm supper!  

Another pleasure of old age is being able to play 18 holes of golf instead of a “quick 9”.  I remember when we were kids, Dad had Saturday golf every week — and he didn’t get home until after lunch.  That did not go over well with the Mother of his children.  After the children left, it was 9 holes with Mom once a week and 2 rounds of 18 holes weekly  . . . ahhh . .  the decadence!

Now, it’s the little things that give us much more pleasure; taking a grandchild to their first ballet or play, hearing the newest member of your family call you “Grandma” or “Nona”.  The family getting  together to celebrate a wedding or birthday  . . . all give us a chance to luxuriate in the foundation we have created for the generations to come.

And to those baby boomers reading this — remember, how you treat your loved ones is how you’ll be treated.  Paul said it best in his Epistle to the Galatians:  for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

AGING ALONE? PREPLAN!

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Old age is  like everything else.  To make a success of it you’ve got to start young.”   That is especially true if you plan to age alone, without the benefit of children or close family.    I am most likely going to age alone and I am preplanning for that.  You should too.

Today’s 80 is the new 70 and 70 the new 60.  Most of us don’t plan on giving up work, volunteering or travel until we’re well into our 70s or 80s.  I have friends who were volunteers at the Key Biscayne Tennis Tournament for over 20 years — the only reason they didn’t volunteer this year was because he became sick and couldn’t.  

As we grow older those of us aging alone have to make plans while we’re fully functional.  We have to discern what resources are available to us in whichever community we choose as our ‘last home’.  With today’s service industry and technology there is a huge advantage . . . there are healthy meal services (both for profit and non-profit), ride share and in many neighborhoods free ride services.  We also have medical care right here on the Island.  

But, as I state over and over again, it’s about preplanning.  You need to have a trusted friends or advisors who can be named as your Power of Attorney for Finance and Health. You need to decide now how to disperse your jewelry, money and tangible goods and write it down.  You should also plan to stay out of probate court.   

You also need to give your passwords for your bank, phone, computer and any other technological device you have, to trusted friends.  Sometimes the best thing to do is find a disinterested third party, such as elder care lawyer, and give it all to him or her.  Yes, you have to pay them but it’s a simple business transaction devoid of emotion.  You should also think of who is going to manage your health care from an insurance point of view so you’re not selling your tangible goods to pay for unwanted or unneeded health care.   You will need an advocate and that takes preplanning.

To review:  If you live alone now or believe that you will age alone without the benefit of family, now is the time to decide where to live, who to trust, who to choose as your beneficiaries and who to have as your Power of Attorney.  I strongly advise you consult with an elder care attorney for all the correct documentation and to have an advocate for you when you can no longer advocate for yourself. 

RETHINKING THE “I’M OLD” MYTH

Now that I’m a senior advocate and activist, I find that many things that used to be funny are now insulting.  Recently, Julie Andrews did a performance to benefit AARP at Radio City Music Hall. It was her 79th birthday.  To be funny she rewrote the words to “My Favorite Things”, here is one of the four verses: “Cadillacs and cataracts, hearing aids and glasses, Polident and Fixodent and false teeth in glasses, Pacemakers, golf carts and porches with swings  . . . these are a few of my favorite things”

Is this funny?  Not to me.  Yet, she received a four minute standing ovation and several encore requests.  Apparently, I’m in the minority.  However, I think the truth lies in the difference between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers.  Ms. Andrews is part of the Greatest Generation and I suspect her audience was, as well.

First, Cadillacs are no longer and “old peoples car”, secondly cataracts now mean that if you have them and remove them — there is a lens placed in your eye so you no longer need glasses!  Hearing aids?  I’m confident that one day I might need them and with any luck Bose will have them for $500 instead of $5000.  I don’t need Polident or Fixodent and neither did my Mother and she was 88 when she died.  If you go to my dentist, Dr. Friedman. you won’t need them either!

More importantly, let’s think of how lucky we are!  In today’s world of we know how to fix things – falling thighs, exercise!  Cataracts — Medicare pays to have them removed and new lens inserted which means no more glasses! (Or at a a minimum, only for reading tiny print.)  For our teeth, we have implants!  And, if you want to tuck in the chin, eyes, tummy, face —- well, there is my doctor, John Martin and Mike Kelly.  Both are Key Biscayne residents and Dr. Kelly has a column in this paper. 

Bottom line – yes, growing older takes its toll but in todays world we can fight against it.  We’re all aware of exercise and diet.  We know if we simply walk 3 or 4 times a week we live longer,  And, yes, fried foods are a guilty pleasure  . . . which, from time to time we should indulge!  But, for the most part, let’s celebrate those lines  . . . and, if you don’t like them — get rid of them.

GROW OLD OR PURSUE YOUR DREAM?

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!

THE PERILS OF HOSPITALS

HOSPITALS — once synonymous with a place to go when you’re REALLY sick is now the last place you want to be unless it’s prescheduled surgery with a doctor you trust.  If you’re elderly and/or on Medicare you are treated as a money machine — not a person.

Here’s how it works  . . . depending on how sick you are is how quickly you’re seen.  If you have an HMO or PPO assigned to your Medicare plan then everything is a predetermined price.  If you only have a medicare card then the patient becomes an ATM. This means that the nurses and techs will run as many

tests as reasonably possible (that insurance will pay).  The Doctor will review the chart for a “diagnosis” which, in my experience, is usually “inconclusive.”

The first time you go to the ER they will probably let you go home after the inconclusive tests BUT should you go back within 72 hours the hospital will admit you.  This is because the insurance companies won’t pay for a second ER visit without a diagnosis and admittance.

Now, here’s what is very important — you cannot let your elderly Mom, Dad and/or relative stay in the Emergency Room by themselves.  Here’s why — the administration will have them sign consent forms for numerous tests that do nothing except take up time.  Secondly, the treat them horribly!  Here is my story:

I took my 90+ Dad to his HMO doc.  He was having balance issues with other symptoms that portend  a stroke.  We rush to the ER and sit in highly uncomfortable chairs with all types of sick people.  After approximately 2 hours they call Dad into a “room.”  The medical techs hook him up to a glucose drip and leave the room.  For the next 3 hours he is taken from one machine to another for test after test. Because my Father is elderly he meekly goes where he’s told.  At the end of this interminable afternoon we receive an “inconclusive diagnosis” and he is allowed to go home.

Two nights later the same symptoms occur — my brother calls 911 and Dad is whisked off to the hospital.  I get home in time to follow the ambulance to the same hospital where we’d spent the afternoon.  I stay with my Father — they finally move him to an ER room and begin to do THE EXACT SAME TESTS they did 48 hours earlier.  I question every one.  It is now 1 am in the morning — I find blankets and sleep on the floor next to Dad’s bed because they are going admit him.  (Remember, if they don’t admit him the hospital won’t be paid.)  In every case, with every test, the results were the same as the ones 48 hours earlier BUT now the diagnosis is not inconclusive  . . . it’s we need more tests and observation.  After two days they allowed him to leave with the diagnosis of dehydration!

Bottom line, if you have an elderly parent or grandparent do not trust the hospital.  When either of my parents stay in the hospital overnight we hire a “babysitter”.  Yes, it costs money but your loved one doesn’t wake up to an empty room trying to figure out where he or she is.  Further, I check the chart constantly to see what is diagnosis and medicine is being used.  Truthfully, it’s like having a child — the difference, I’m grateful to be able to reciprocate what was done for me.

NOT ALL HOSPICE IS CREATED EQUAL

What is Hospice?  First, it is a type of care and philosophy that focuses on the palliation of a chronically ill, terminally ill or seriously ill patient’s pain and symptoms, as well as attending to their emotional and spiritual needs.   OK – so what is palliation?  Palliation is a service that makes you feel better even though it can’t cure you.

Hospice is a positive addition to our medicare system because the focus is the patient.  The goal is to keep each patient as comfortable as possible.  This means additional care over what your loved one is already receiving. Between nurses, social workers and priests, there is someone there two to three times a week to make certain there is no pain or discomfort.

The other side of this service is that it is run by medicare.  That means that Hospice is free if you’re in Medicare as most of our seniors are.   This also means not all Hospice providers are the same.  There are thousands of Hospice providers and you have to be certain that they are doing their job (much like those Medicare doctors I’ve described in earlier articles).

I’ve had two different patients in different facilities with different providers and the difference was night and day.  One provider is in a nursing home that accepts medicaid patients, we’ll call it A for purposes of this article. The other provider was for a client who lived in an assisted living facility – one that cost $4500/month.  This Provider is called F.

A little background – once a patient has been admitted to Hospice, its doctors, nurses and aides “rule” the care.  If the patient is a diabetic he or she will still stay on diabetes medicine but perhaps be taken off non-essential medication depending on the comfort level. Yes, the facility still feeds and provides a clean environment  but Hospice is in charge of the patients comfort.

In most nursing homes the patients are in full blown dementia but not necessarily at the end of their life physically.  Therefore, it is much more difficult to qualify for Hospice in a nursing home.  However, once the patient is accepted the care for my nursing home client was beyond great.  Her nurse was Mark and I could call anytime to check on her (once the children had given their permission)

The other client was in an Assisted Living Facility and qualified for Hospice before the children asked.  They had no indication he was in his last days, weeks or months.  Once their loved one  become uncomfortable and disoriented they started receiving a “run around.”  Parent Your Parents was asked to intervene.  Here’s what we found, the Assisted Living Center blamed it on Hospice and Hospice blamed it on the Assisted Living Center.  We started calling the Hospice office daily to ask for more help. Hospice told the children that babysitters were needed (at $20/hour).  That is when we went into advocate mode.  I reminded the Hospice company that their job was comfort and they had to start providing real comfort, not advice to the children and Assisted Living Center’s employees!  Remember these companies make money and paying people to babysit takes away from their bottom line.  The end result, this Hospice company did what they advertised and found a bed in an extremely lovely location where the client passed away comfortably and peacefully.

Bottom line – not all Hospice is created equal.

FINANCIAL TRANSPARENCY

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!

Tough Love – Parenting Your Parents

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!

LAST RITES OR LAST RIGHTS?

My nephew was getting married — everyone in our family was thrilled — we love his wife, love him and love that they found each other.  The wedding was in Texas — Mom and Dad live in Atlanta.  Mom is extremely ill and cannot travel.  Dad had just gotten out of the hospital and we could not travel.  Our big fear — what if one died the weekend of the wedding? 

My brother and I called several funeral homes to discuss options.  We also consulted friends and my brother’s priest. During the course of this journey we discovered that family owned, multi generational funeral homes tend to be more gentle and understanding.  They listen to what you want and explain what you need.  There are several here in Miami — the oldest is Van Orsdel who took care of Eddie Rickenbacher and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas.

Most of us hate the idea of ‘visiting the funeral home.’  The idea of death and its finality brings discomfort.  In this particular case Mom and Dad are both alive and we were there for selfish reasons – not wanting a wedding interrupted by death.  Yet, as I write this, it was the smartest decision we ever made (more on that later).

There is nothing INEXPENSIVE  about the simplest of funerals.  The entire “funeral experience” has changed.  It used to be 30% of the deceased were cremated and 70% buried.  Today it’s the opposite, The average cremation costs in Miami are $2000.  Then you need an ash container (beginning at $100.).  Caskets range from $3000 up and add to that the burial plot, the actual burial and the memorial service  . . . bare bones cost is about $6000.00.   And then there’s the celebration of life . . . shiva  . . . wake . . . which, arguably is the most important part of this process.

The first decision is the manner of ‘the goodbye’ – cremation or a burial?  This brings me to insurance policies for burials.  There are policies that cost from $50.00 to $100.00 a month which will pay out enough to cover the cost of  the funeral and burial.  It’s all a question of how much you want to pay.  I know many of us on Key Biscayne think we have the money to bury a loved one but do you really have $7,000 to $15,000 sitting around for a burial?

Once that decision is made, it’s time for the legalities.  Each state is different but all require notarized signatures.  An example – although I am my Mother’s Power of Attorney (POA) for everything, my father had to sign the document allowing her cremation.  However, Dad is not the person who signs for his own cremation — that was my brother and me as mother is non compos mentis (not of right mind).

Lastly, the choice of the receptacle or casket – another big financial hit – or not, depending on what you choose.   Today, many funeral homes offer rental caskets (a variety of pricing) for the memorial/viewing or church service of the family member who will be cremated.  A new trend is  “cremation viewing”  . . . in other words you can watch your loved one enter the cremator. 

My brother and I went through this entire experience together.  My advice — do not do this alone — no matter how lovely the people at the home there is an emotional toll.  Having another person with you is calming. 

We now have everything in place so when “it” happens we will not be making decisions with heavy hearts or guilty minds.  And,  the icing on the cake – my Father asked me what arrangements we had made. I  asked him if he wanted to hear what we had in mind and he said yes.  I told him that he and Mom will be cremated and after both have died (and I used that word) we were flying their ashes to Ft. Worth, Texas (Dad’s a Texas boy).  There we will do a memorial service at their church and a party at Riviera Country Club.  Dad loved the idea!   Rites and Rights – done! 

THE BEGINNING OF THE END, HOSPICE CARE

Well, the call finally came, “Ms. Reaves, we’d like to re-evaluate your Mother.  She has lost more of her core function and we think she might be a candidate for Hospice care.”

Here’s the thing, dear reader,  I thought Mom was already a candidate for hospice but she wasn’t’ approved the first time she was evaluated.  Now, she is approved and I realize — this could be the end.  My emotions are mixed.  I’m sad one minute then remember her non-existent quality of life and I know it’s appropriate and its time.

The wonderful thing about Hospice care is that the focus is the patient.  The goal is to keep her or him as comfortable as possible.  This means that besides the care Mom is already receiving there will be someone there two to three times a week to make certain she has no pain and is comfortable.

What is Hospice?  I had to ask myself that question and found several definitions.  First, it is a type of care and philosophy that focuses on the palliation of a chronically ill, terminally ill or seriously ill patient’s pain and symptoms, as well as attending to their emotional and spiritual needs.   OK – so what is palliation?  Palliation is a service that makes you feel better even though it can’t cure you.

The term “Hospice” comes from the 11th century where hospitals had an area that  was “hospitality for the sick, wounded or dying”.  In today’s medical and insurance world, it is palliative care for the incurably ill, either in a medical facility, nursing home or at home.  Medicare covers it therefore if you’re a US Citizen or Green Card holder you are eligible.

To qualify for Hospice the patient is evaluated by a doctor or nurse practitioner and he prognosis must be that the person is terminally ill and has less than six months to live.  The truth is many hospice patients live longer than six months at which time they are re-evaluated.  If placed in Hospice again, the six months starts over.

In today’s medical world, (and we know I’m a bit cynical) there is both Hospice care and Palliative care.  Hospice is covered by Medicare, Palliative care is not.  It is often covered by insurance (if you have a PPO) or you can pay out of pocket.  In both cases, the patient is going to die in the “short term” — but it might be more than six months.

This is VERY IMPORTANT:  once your family member goes into Hospice or Palliative Care it means that there are NO MORE CURES. The caretakers want the patient pain free, and supported both emotionally and mentally.

If your parent or grandparent is in an Assisted Living Facility and begins a decline, the Facility prefers them to be in Hospice or Palliative Care.  This means your family member will be receiving more attention but that also means their regular doctor is not in charge anymore.  It’s also a signal that death is not far away – a sobering moment for you and your loved one.