As I work with my clients, many of whom have dealt with or are dealing with aging issues, including long life planning and elder care (either their own or their parent’s), I’ve recognized several truths.
People Respond Differently
As with most things in life, people respond differently to the issues that come with aging based on who they are and what their expectations are in life, among other things. Two people can be facing the same situation, but will have unique responses based on their outlook and life experiences.
There are many individual factors to consider when making decisions on subjects like elder care. One size does not fit all. Supporting someone in making those decisions, including allowing them the dignity to decide on their care and how they want to be treated in their final years, is one of the most beautiful gifts I have seen.
There Are Options
Having worked with many clients, some of whom have vastly different needs, I am always surprised by the options that I’ve never thought of, yet seem to be the perfect solution for that individual.
The wealth of information about elder care and other aging issues can be overwhelming, and the learning curve steep, for the handful of decisions that need to be made. It can be difficult to navigate the many issues that need to be addressed.
Organizations such as Accountable Aging and the National Council on Aging offer consolidated resource information. Many times, solutions are highly localized and finding the right contact can make all the difference. Visit the Eldercare Directory to find services near you.
From driving schools to nutrition education to prescription assistance, there are resources that offer ways to help manage the specific needs you find yourself facing.
It’s Hard to Be a Caregiver
Regardless of how much you love a person, tending someone who needs special care is draining. The toll it takes can be significant. People make financial sacrifices when they quit their job or reduce their hours to be caregivers. Elder care can drain personal energy as well as cause financial strain.
Other issues to address include handling stress, financial and legal matters, and personal emotional and physical well-being.
The caregiver needs support, just as much as the person who is being cared for. Many times, this can be as simple as bringing in outside help through groups like Visiting Angels or looking to local churches for in-home visits.
For more information, visit the National Alliance for Caregivers to find caregiver resources and support groups.
Your Stage of Life Doesn’t Define You
I once had a discussion with a women who had early onset dementia. Her concern was how those around her were going to view her and that she felt she had nothing left to offer. Many people dealing with aging face identity issues as mind and body change.
Adaptation and flexibility is key to prevent losing oneself in aging. “I suggest that those who are able to avail themselves of many defensive styles and interests are better equipped. A narrow self-definition, an over-dependence on one strength for a sense of self, leaves one at greater risk,” says Sandra Buechler, Ph.D., a supervisor at the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy.
Aging and entering elder care is only one part of a person’s life. Your values and beliefs, who you have loved and what you have done are what define you. Remembering to see yourself from the perspective of those who love you is an overlooked blessing.
For those who are able, becoming involved in worthwhile causes and participating in new and fulfilling activities can bring a sense of purpose and self-satisfaction. It may help to write down some notes about your life and review your legacy. Use this time to reflect on your accomplishments and contributions to those around you. Doing family history can connect you with previous generations and help remind you of your place in the family tree.
You Can Start Planning Now
Even if it seems like you are years away from needing elder care or dealing with other aging issues, there are things you can plan for now. If you are looking to buy a new house or you’re thinking of downsizing from your current one, you may wish to consider whether your new home will be adaptable for the needs that come in elder years, including the number of stairs, the width of halls and doorways and shower/tub access.
Consider buying long-term care insurance and view your health as an investment. Have your will and any advance directives or power of attorneys in order. Review the beneficiaries on your accounts and start recording heirlooms you’d like family members to receive.
Take notice when you see other families dealing with elder care. What do you see that appeals to you and what things do you want to avoid? Create family agreements about driving, financial caretaking, home maintenance and moving transitions.
Determine what you want in your elder years and start having those conversations with your family. The more your loved ones know beforehand, the better the transition will be for everyone.