Why Seniors Must Be Proactive Before Crisis Hits: Don’t Count on Well-Meaning Friends
Socializing is so important for our well being as we go through the aging process.
There are many situations where people of a certain age are supporting one another during times of need. We hear nice tales of the group of friends that wants to live together and support each other though the final phase of their lives.
But when you are in crisis, is relying on friends that are going to come and help really the best idea?
As you go through the aging process, chances are more likely than not, that you will end up having a health issue. When a crisis comes up, things are often a hot mess when it comes to senior care. Upset offspring, denial, siblings disagreeing, the person in crisis also being in denial, confusing information, stressed-out spouses, inefficient bureaucrats, evil opportunists are all too commonplace during times of crisis when it comes to the lives of seniors. But, does it have to be that way?
In my experience, the answer is no: With some simple and realistic planning you can get through this time of your life and enjoy it to the fullest.
I am not saying that your friend will not help you, but more often than not your friend may not be able to help for many reasons.
Here are two situations I witnessed firsthand, which support this:
The scene was terrible. My Stepmom was in bed wearing gerry-rigged children’s pull up diaper. Her ex-husband (my father) and son were in a panic. They had been hand feeding her and trying to get out of bed for 3 weeks. I had been warning my family about her mental decline for years, but again my family was in denial, who wants to think of a family member having dementia? “She always forgets things, she has always repeated herself.” My family told me when I expressed my concern and diagnosis, but now there was no denying it. When the visiting nurse came to assess My Stepmom, they recommended 24-hour care for her. My Stepmom said she was fine, she wanted someone to come on occasion, and was going to have her friends help. Her friends were helping, but the situation was now too out of hand. Friends are not going to change your diaper or clean your bathroom accident up off the floor or give you injections. Her friends meant well, but one of them had to have a shoulder replacement surgery and then got cancer. Her other friend’s sister had a heart attack. Another friend had to attend to her own family crisis.
Even with an arsenal of helpful friends you may not get the help you need during a crisis.
One of the saddest but most practical things I ever had to do was preplan my Stepmother’s Funeral. It was an awful hour and a half of my life. My father had just passed away. The Funeral Home called and suggested we plan my Stepmom’s funeral. I thought it was a good idea and my brother agreed. When we were planning the funeral at the funeral home with the same director that assisted the family with my Father’s passing, all of these unexpected issues came up. We are an interfaith family. I always assumed my Stepmom would want a Jewish funeral. She had become closer to her faith towards the end even though she was a staunch Atheist her whole life. Her will expressly asked for cremation. I was surprised by this but her brother had also chosen that option. When my brother and I left the funeral home after the pre-planning, we both felt as if a brick was lifted off our heads. These things were so uncomfortable and sad to think of. When my Stepmom did pass away we got to mourn in peace, and just feel and deal with her loss. There were no papers to file, no decisions to make. We got to say our goodbyes in a perfect way.
Next came my Mom’s crisis. She had some weird infection and had to have a picc line put in her arm. I live 300 miles away from my Mom. I could not get to her in time to take care of her. Again she said her neighbor was going to help, and come twice a day. Her neighbor with good intentions came to help once, and that was it.
Friends may causally agree to help in a crisis but upon seeing the situation may find your crisis too overwhelming or sad. Remember your friend likes you. It is emotionally difficult to watch your friends suffer. This also can remind your peers about their own mortality and vulnerabilities. People in your peer group are going through their own aging process. I see that when people get past 70 they start to think about how much time they have left in this world. They want to enjoy what time there is, and can get very focused on what they want to do. And who can blame them? After a lifetime of work and responsibilities we all deserve to enjoy life.
What you can do to help yourself and your loved ones is to be prepared. This is not going to be fun, but plan ahead and have a support system in place for times of crisis. You are not admitting defeat, you are being smart. You may not want to think about the inevitable, but for your families sake you must.
If you have no family making plans is all the more important. I often see 80 and 90 year olds without family get help from kind 60-year-old neighbors in times of need. This is wonderful, but having a solid plan in place will be the best thing for you and your caretakers.
Even for my own situation I was not on point for end-of-life or crisis planning. I was going to fill out my will before my hip replacement surgery, and well, I couldn’t figure out how to edit the Google Doc, then I dawdled, then it never got done. I did have a rough time with that operation, I regretted not taking care of business to protect my son and family.
As soon as the Pandemic hit, I emailed my Son my medication list, and where to find all of my passwords including the password to my cash card. I am considered vulnerable to this new virus, due to the fact that I am 53 years old and had major surgery within the past 6 months. My neighborhood was also hit very hard and many people have died of C-19 . It must have scared my son but we both knew I was trying to make life easier on him if something did happen to me.
What you can do to help your caretakers.
1) Fill out a directive. This is a form in writing about what
you want for medical care in case you can not make plans yourself. Doctors will keep you alive in any kind of shape, don’t let strangers make your exit plan or health care plan, take control. Fill out your directive and give it to your caretaker.
2) Write a medication list. Give your children or a caregiver your list of all the medications you take.
3) Have a designated care friend or crisis buddy. Pick a friend that can help you ahead of time. Make an agreement, talk about it.
4) Do your research. Find out if there are agencies that can help you in times of crisis
5) Copy your keys. Make sure a trusted friend or neighbor or relative has a copy of your keys.
6) Inform others. Let your caretakers know where all of your important papers and passwords are.
7) Prepare a will, even if you do not have a large estate.
Nobody wants to think of things like this. A few hours of being emotionally uncomfortable and filling out some papers can save you and your loved ones months and perhaps years of work.
* and yes years, my father passed 3 years ago and I am still doing paperwork for him.