Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I’m not sure whether I most enjoy smelling or eating the turkey that I stuff with my mother’s special recipe, which you can find in the newsletter available at our website. It’s a joy to serve a festive dinner after an afternoon of watching football in front of a wood fire with extended family. Family stories, which often feature loved ones who are no longer with us, seem richer with age as they are recalled and shared intergenerationally.
As much as I enjoy the day of Thanksgiving, the frenzy of Black Friday which follows is an experience I avoid. I’d no sooner choose to be part of the crowds on Black Friday than choose to be stuck in beach traffic on a hot summer Saturday. I have to admit that, unless it involves our grandchildren, holiday shopping feels like a chore for me. The commercial hype that surrounds gift-exchanging among adults can distract me from the spiritual meaning of Christmas.
I often wish that I were handy or crafty and could give family members something clever or beautiful from a woodshop or easel. Personal gifts are special, and can never be the wrong color or size. For those of us whose hands cannot create what only our imagination can see, we must think harder for a special gift to express our love.
A priceless gift we can give or receive among family is that of sharing quality intergenerational time together, such as attending grandchildren’s activities or family celebrations. If you feel sandwiched between a multigenerational family’s conflicting needs, you know that unscheduled time can be as scarce as a parking space at the mall on Black Friday. If, “when the time comes,” the adult children can supervise the employment of others to help with their parents’ Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), grandparents will be more likely to experience quality time that involves their grandchildren.
Much like an enjoyable vacation that is prepaid to get discounted rates and concierge-level services, an Extended Care Plan reduces a family’s future stress and ensures that care will be affordable when it is needed. It can be an amazingly loving gift within a multigenerational, middle-class family. An Extended Care Plan can be given by successful adult children to their parents. Or, just knowing that aging parents have prepared an Extended Care Plan will reassure their adult children, who will have peace of mind as they realize that they need not fear being conscripted in the future into performing daily caregiving chores.
It you imagine that having your family minimizes your need for planning, please reconsider. Favors from family and friends to “help you out a little” can go on too long; and sometimes your care needs gradually increase to the stage of requiring more time and skill than your family and friends should provide. One clue that you have resisted change too long might be when your phone calls for help are screened by a recording device more frequently than they are answered by a person.
Maybe you think that there is no benefit to having a plan because you can afford the care when you need it. We hear a variety of excuses when an aging couple eventually reaches the stage at which their need for regular caregiving help is painfully obvious to everyone but them. The penny-wise and pound-foolish client says: “But the homecare agency has a minimum of three hours per day and I don’t need that much!” The co-dependent caregiver of a spouse with dementia says: “He’s fine if I watch him to tell him what to do; and he helps me open jars and get things down from the top of the closet.” Change, and especially dementia, can be sneaky. Even when one spouse recognizes that the time has come to get help, it can be hard to convince the other spouse of that. It helps when he or she can say: “Our care is already paid for, so it will be a waste if we don’t either get a home care aid or move to the assisted care community.”
When people wait too long to get help, they enter a vulnerable stage we call “The Danger Zone.” Sometimes, a series of minor, stroke-like transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are not detected and accelerate physical and mental decline. Other times, the combination of diminished eyesight and incremental frailty leads to a fall within the home and requires emergency orthopedic surgery. Either circumstance can cause an aging person to catapult though the stage of needing marginal personal assistance to that of an irreversible need for full-time skilled nursing care. Regrettably, when one spouse goes from the family home directly to skilled nursing, the other cannot go along as a live-in companion. An Extended Care Plan anticipates The Danger Zone and makes financial resources available for home care or custodial care, which reduces the likelihood of a catastrophic event and allows a couple to stay together.
If you are not chronically ill, you have a great opportunity to plan ahead now. It is possible that you could live a long life; and if you do, you or your spouse might become frail eventually. Your family will appreciate your action now when they understand how it will preserve quality time in the future. “I’ll know when the time comes” is one of the most self-delusional statements you could ever make.
A complete and useful Extended Care Plan includes legal documents, analysis of your projected retirement income, comparing the benefits of entering a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) and/or obtaining Long Term Care Insurance (LTCI), and a strategy to avoid a nursing home. For more information about making a gift of an Extended Care Plan this holiday season, you can listen to our interview with Michael Parks at WHP 580 on Saturday November 24 at 7:00 AM or attend our free seminar on Thursday, November 29th. Give you loved ones a truly “care”-ing gift this holiday!