Many experts agree: by the time you approach age 40 and a loved one is around 70, you should have had the “talk” about issues so many families want to avoid. The Home Instead Senior Care® network refers to this concept as the 40-70 Rule®, a program launched in 2008 to start important conversations early, before a crisis occurs. Through it, we offer education and resources to help make planning, initiating and facilitating “the talk” easier and more productive. When families with special circumstances need to discuss difficult situations, it often gets pushed aside.
Enter the Brady Bunch – they seemed to have it all: family harmony and the desire to care for one another. But we never saw the Brady clan grow older, did we? Blended families can face a variety of unique challenges when it comes to aging and caring for one another. An estimated 25% of American men and women report being married at least two times by age 50, according to the National Stepfamily Resource Center. About 42% of adults have at least one step relative, with 30% indicating they have a step- or half-sibling, according to a Pew Research Center survey.
A majority of senior care professionals interviewed by the Home Instead Senior Care® network say that factors such as having a blended family make disputes over aging or end-of-life issues more likely. It can also muddy the waters when it comes to who provides care to aging loved ones. So who does? “That’s a huge question, and one that’s difficult to answer,” said communication expert Dr. Jake Harwood of the University of Arizona. “It probably depends a lot on the family history,” he pointed out. “But communication matters: the more all children (biological and stepchildren) can communicate about what is going on, what needs to be done, and who is going to do it, the better.”
The North American family isn’t what it used to be. In fact, it’s shrinking. And that leaves many boomers and seniors alone and concerned about how they will cope as they grow older. A MetLife Mature Market Institute study “The New American Family”, found that here were 7 million Americans living alone in 1960, representing just 13% of all households. Now there are 31.2 million, a jump of 350%. Among those who are age 65 or older, 45% live alone. This development will have significant repercussions for both retirement planning and long-term care.
Growing older alone isn’t impossible. But it does require careful planning. If you, a family member or client expects to be aging alone, consider the following tips from financial experts and others who are traveling that same path:
- Talk with an attorney about developing or updating a will.
- Designate a person with power of attorney and a health care proxy. Make sure those individuals know what you would prefer for care if any end-of-life decisions must be made.
- Meet with a financial planner to help ensure you understand your finances, including the money and benefits that you can expect from savings, pensions, and other means.
- Arrange for automatic bill pay in the event that you are unable to care for yourself.
4 Fears Surrounding End of Life Care and How to Overcome Them
Many families find conversations about end of life care difficult to broach with a parent or aging loved one, but surely they have come up.
Perhaps you were driving away from a nursing home visit with your mother when she told you she “never wants to live in a place like that.”
Or, maybe you were sharing coffee after a family funeral when your father told you that he “never wants to be hooked up to ventilators like Uncle Mark was.” Statements like these open a window into their desires as they relate to end of life care, but they don’t provide you with the full picture you need to adequately plan ahead.
Here are a few of some of the most common fears and ways to overcome them.
- Fear #1: “I hate the thought of having feeding tubes and ventilators keeping me alive.”
What you can do about it: Consider establishing a living will. Living wills detail an individual’s treatment preferences in the event he or she is unable to make those decisions for him- or herself. The requirements for living wills vary from state to state, so you should also consider having a lawyer assist with this. Many lawyers will prepare a living will as part of an estate planning package.
- Fear #2: “I’m afraid I will end up in a nursing home, and I don’t want to die in a hospital or institution.”
What you can do about it: There are many options for end of life care outside of nursing homes and hospitals. Make sure that you have a conversation with your parent about his or her wishes and look into home care and respite options together so that you are prepared when the time comes.
- Fear #3 “What if I get dementia and can no longer make my own decisions?”
What you can do about it: It’s wise to have your parents designate a trusted person with power of attorney (POA) who will act on their behalf in the event that they are no longer able to advocate for themselves. Designating a person with POA will give them peace of mind that their care wishes will be met regardless of their mental acuity.
- Fear #4: “I don’t want to lose my independence.”
What you can do about it: Look into the home care options in your area so that your parent can have the help they need to continue living independently at home without feeling like they have to rely on you to help meet their daily needs.
The best way to address the end-of-life fears your parent may be struggling with is to communicate clearly with them about their wishes in advance. If the topic doesn’t come up naturally, set up a specific time to talk.
As you complete the plan 40-70 Rule®: An Action Plan for Successful Aging, you will find sections that address special circumstances, such as blended families, and how to deal with aging issues in a variety of areas including:
- Living Choices – Consider what other family members may want and how a living situation could impact them. Plan a family meeting to discuss the situation.
- Financial Choices- Consider obtaining independent financial counsel for each family member.
- Health – Try scheduling a family meeting or family conference call to talk about any health issues of concern with the family. Make sure you know what you want to achieve at the end of the meeting.
- Relationships and Dating – You may need the help of a counselor or financial planner to work through sensitive relationship issues surrounding blended families, including money or inheritance.
- Driving – If you are concerned about someone in the family driving, try to schedule a meeting or conference call to address the issue. If you can’t reach a consensus, ask a third party professional or member of the clergy to step in and mediate.
- End of life – If families cannot agree, consider a mutually acceptable third party mediator to help you resolve issues.
The plan will help families ACT (Assess, Consider and Talk) about their best options.
Some topics are difficult for adult children to discuss with their aging parents. The most difficult topics for Boomers to speak to parents about are:
42% Needing to leave home
30% Losing driving privileges
Try to remain open and put yourself in your loved ones’ shoes to better understand their wishes and the reasoning behind them. Be sure to record your discussion by taking notes so you have something to refer back to when making plans and decisions in the future.
For many, it’s normal to feel anxiety surrounding these topics, but know that having open communication with your loved ones will likely give your family a sense of peace that will far outweigh any anxiety you feel broaching the subject.