Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Joe Steckler of Helping Seniors of Brevard County, a local non-profit specializing in providing resources and education to area seniors. He and I taped a TV program about one of my "soap-box" issues, planning ahead for the possibility of needing care as we age. We plan for retirement. We make out wills and prepare estate plans, name a power of attorney, an executor. Why don't we plan for our needs as we age?
Why plan for care?
It is arguably more emotional than end of life planning. Thinking about needing help in our daily lives, losing our driving privileges, or needing help in the shower is just too overwhelming to put your head around. Many don't. There are often two outcomes. First, a sudden accident or illness causes a hospitalization and the need for immediate care. Quick decisions must be made. If you are really sick, others are making those decisions for you. It may or may not be what you want. I see adult children making tough decisions based on what they think their parent will want and need, only to have their parent upset since they had no say in the matter. That's not fair for either.
The second outcome of lack of planning is the product of continuous denial. It can be subtle, or a very steadfast "I don't need help at any cost" attitude. Sadly, this outcome often results in a steep slide into a reclusive lifestyle with cycles of hospitalizations, rehab, home health, and back again.
- A real-life example: we cared for a couple from the New England area. Steadfastly independent. She had early stages of dementia and was frail. He was healthy and devoted, trying to make sure she was cared for. It was too much, and he suffered a stroke. The family brought us in but after a week and a half the couple said we were not needed. He forgot to take his medications, they did not eat well, and he suffered another stoke. The cycle repeated. After three strokes, progressively affecting him more negatively, he passed away. She declined as well and without him there, required 24/7 hands-on care. We firmly believe that if we had been allowed to help, we could have kept them well with minimal "intrusion". They just did not want anyone there and they had the right to refuse it. It's frustrating for all involved but happens all the time.
Plan now, before it is needed.
Take a big breath. Grab a cup of tea. Have the conversation with yourself and/or with your family. Decide what you can deal with if you had to stop driving. If you need at-home help, what would that look like? Can you prepare your home now with simple modifications to age in place? Would you be open to move to an independent or assisted living facility? Visit a few, get an idea of what's out there and what would be an acceptable location and environment. Once you have the plan, you can relax.