My mother, Nancy, could no longer live without help 10 years ago and we were not prepared. And, I get PAID to plan people’s retirement. I clearly had no idea what I was talking about as we hadn’t talked a lot about becoming old, infirm and dying. She was losing her balance, and needed help. Here were the facts: A part- time caregiver in her condo cost $3000 a month. She fell out of her bed and the caregiver could not lift her. It wasn’t enough.
My mother then went to a high-end facility at $7500 a month. I battled with knowing that she wasn’t really happy where she was and questioned if I was doing the right thing. She ultimately got bed sores from not being repositioned enough and later I found out that her teeth had rarely been brushed. That was not the answer either.
After trying another facility, I had had enough and my mother was running out of money. She moved in with me. At least I could provide stability, home-cooked meals and consistent caregivers every day. I felt good about my decision. Professional, agency caregivers came and went. My mother put on a brave face. I started wondering about her future. She was unable to roll over, had lost weight and her appetite declined.
I called hospice. They were thorough, sensitive and had a lot of support to offer us both. Finally, a dedicated team to see us through to the end. What a relief.
By now, Nancy slept about 18 hours a day.
The woman lying before me was not the dynamic professional working woman I had known all my life. She had experienced a successful life filled with fun travel, participating on charitable boards, and in the company of great friends. Nancy was born in 1920, the year that women received the hard-won right to vote. She was self-reliant, hardworking and knew, as a mother, that she was going to provide the best education and opportunities for her two children. She did. After she retired from work, she still liked to go out with her drinking buddies and had a full social calendar of fundraisers, dinners and luncheons.
Now, only a couple of friends came out to spend time with her. I resented that she was a shell of her former self. She could no longer talk. As a professional financial planner, I made certain we took care of her estate planning before she was ill, and her end-of-life wishes were well documented. But she had always resisted looking at long term care.
Eventually it did come to an end. I was really relieved.
According to the Institute for the Ages, a quarter of the United States population is over the age of 55. The population over 80 will be the fastest growing segment of the population for the next 40 years. My mother fit: she was 92 when she died and her older sister, Caroline, is still going strong at 98.
We have all done a bad job planning for a long life. Inflation, unforeseen health challenges and potential care expenses are for many of us Baby Boomers not a pressing concern. However, we are part of a demographic tidal wave that will continue for years to come. As Roz Chast suggests in her best seller, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, we Baby Boomers have a second chance to talk to our own children about getting older and how and where we want to live. Maybe we can do a better job.
Planning for getting older is more like a series of conversations. Where are your documents, who are your advisors, what planning have you done? How will you pay for care if you need it? What charities are you passionate about? What do you want to leave as a legacy? What are the risks that might prevent you from achieving your legacy? How can you employ smart strategies to lessen those risks?
Now I know that my daughter, Alexandra, 23, and I can look forward to lots of conversations about the life that we are creating together for the next 30 or 40 years.