Thursday, April 03, 2008

On Aging (A Personal Post)

Although our primary focus here is insurance [ed: nice of you to notice], we also discuss more general topics, specifically those that are health-related. I'd like to share some personal experiences and observations, partially out of a need for catharsis, but also in keeping with our underlying mission of education and awareness.

Some 18 months ago, we had to move my mother into a nursing home. She'd been diagnosed with Alzheimer's (and yes, I'm aware that the definitive diagnosis actually takes place at the autopsy, but that seemed so, well, final). She's not completely "gone:" I used to talk about her having "good days" and "bad days," but I've matured a bit, and now discuss it in terms of whether she's in her world or ours.

My beloved stepfather is in the same facility, although they're not currently in the same unit; he's in somewhat better shape, and more able to take care of himself.

The reason for this post, at this time, is to share with our readers the very real, very personal, very painful reality of the dilemna that our "seasoned citizens" - and their progeny - face when things begin to go downhill. So I'm going to take some liberties here, and make some observations and suggestions:

If you're one of "the seniors," begin to downsize now. I mean it: DO NOT BURDEN your children with having to clean out your home of the past 30, 40 or 50 years of accumulated junk (and yes, much of it is junk, not treasure: deal with it). It is okay to donate, burn or otherwise dispose of it; if your kids want any of it, offer it to them, conditioned on them actually removing it in the next two weeks.

If you don't already have it (and are able to do so), buy long term care insurance. Contrary to industry propaganda, it is not a method of insuring or conserving your estate. It is to help you retain something far more important: choice. If you don't understand this, then you need to do some serious research. If the agent uses the terms "liquidity" or "estate" (or some variation thereof), find a new agent. I'm serious.

If you're the son or daughter of a senior, encourage them to downsize. Offer to help box things up, drop them off, or otherwise dispose of them. If you have your eye on a particular item (or items), just remember that, far too quickly, your children will face the same daunting task. Make it easier for them than it was for you.

For my compatriots dealing with the declining health of their parents, know that there are people in your life who do care, and want to help. If I've learned nothing else through this experience, it's how many people truly care, and want to help. Perhaps surprisingly, many (most?) of these folks won't be your "family" (that is, brothers, sisters, etc), but others whose lives you've touched. In my faith, we call this "mishpacha" which means "family," but oh so much more. You have that, too, whether you know it or not; ask for help, I guarantee that you'll get far more than you could ever have imagined.

Finally, a personal note: for those praying for me and my family, I am truly indebted, and hope that I can return the favor (when appropriate). Thank you, too, to everyone who's emailed and/or called. You are part of my "mishpacha," too.

Thank you.
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