How Old is Elder?

For you newcomers, you should know that some of my writing is only tangentially related to legal subjects. That is because my practice, while specifically focused on Elder LAW is really about elder ISSUES.  Many of the problems brought to me have less to do with the law than with family dynamics, institutional bureaucracies and most of all, communication.

Elder Yoga

Speaking of communication, I hit a home run with that last Facebook post about unconventionally stylish older women! I think 15 new people “liked” my page in the space of 24 hours. A new record.  I expect that it may be because it was not a “legal” article. They are so boring.

I think the real reason my last post garnered so much attention was because it was about older women – truly older: all in their late 70’s up to 90 – and each was defying the standard expectations for women their age. They were interesting, colorful, supple, and beautiful. They did not dye their hair or have face lifts to “preserve” their youthful beauty. They are beautiful, articulate and interesting just the way they are.

It brings to mind the struggle I face when asked how I define “elder.”

Apparently, the vogue for the word “senior” is passé, and “elder” is right behind it. We shall have to adopt a new term but I don’t know what it is yet.  There is a gentleman, himself of advancing years ( 70-ish?) but who is still very active in business and attends my “Aging in Place Business Roundtable.” He describes his target market as those who are “55 years old and ‘better’”   — I like that, but it is hard to use as a noun.

I have learned not to label my clients by age.  My clients are sometimes not very aged at all. The adult children of aging folks are often the first ones to contact me and they may be as young as 35-40. The upper end of my clientele’s age has been 101 (she is still alive a year later so 102 and counting!). I have worked with nursing home residents, laid low by deteriorating health, who are as young as 60.

The video I posted clearly confirms what I experience in my day to day practice;  age is not a number but a state of mind. And health.

Many, if not most of my clients tend to arrive – both elders and their adult children –  thanks to a medical crisis. A crisis involving themselves, their spouse or their parent.  As stroke, major surgery, chronic illness, a fall, onset of Alzheimer’s or other dementia. As the result of these events, my clients have quite suddenly become aware that they have not prepared for the inevitability of growing older. In particular, they have not prepared for the overwhelming number of choices that must be made nor the costs involved.

We are definitely living longer and in most cases, we are living better. Because of this, we must make our resources last longer. Every situation I encounter is a bit different. From those figuring out how to hang on Social Security alone, to those living out a gracious life with lots of savings and a permanent roof over their head. And every shade within that spectrum

At this time of year I like to recommend to those going home to visit the family to  try to look at our families through different eyes. We all tend to deny signs and symptoms of aging and increasing frailty because, if Mom or Dad is getting old…. then what must be happening to us?  We owe it to our parents and to ourselves to look at our loved ones realistically, without the rose tinted glasses.

Planning for a lengthy, stylish, energetic old age should not be done in the midst of a crisis.  Once a medical situation has arisen, the choices before us become quite limited and resources – both financial and human – are drained appreciably.

Not all of the planning I suggest to people is of a legal nature. There are other considerations beyond a Will, a General Power of Attorney and an Advanced Medical Directive (the basics). Nor is it all financial. You may want to download and print out my “Advanced Life Planner” (a.k.a. “Where’s My Stuff?”) and use it as a guideline.

Download Where’s My Stuff? here

If you wish, print two, take it home when you visit Mom and Dad for the holidays. Ask them to fill it out. If they will agree, do it together since this is a great way to start a conversation with Mom or Dad about everyone’s thoughts, plans, views, anxieties and fears. You may be surprised how much easier it is to talk about such things when one’s death is not looming over the hospital bed.

It sure beats trying to guess or gather this information in the intensive care unit after Mom or Dad has had an injury or serious illness.

This year, in addition to the good food, fancy clothes and parties, give a gift to yourself and your families. Give a gift of peace of mind!

Where’s My Stuff?