Attended a "workshop" yesterday on Bainbridge Island with a couple of neighborhood friends on planning for our care as we age. The presenter, Liz Taylor, worked over 40 years in elder care (lead a federal task team investigating nursing home fraud). You may have read her column in the Seattle Times on aging.
Almost no one thinks they will get old and/or disabled--they say "if I get ill," when what we need to say is "When I (or my spouse) become ill or disabled," to motivate realistic planning. Plan for the worst, and hope for the best.
The presentation outlined a fairly bleak outlook for aging baby boomers, for a variety of reasons--mainly too many aging boomers, most people haven't saved enough money and/or purchased long-term care insurance; fewer having children than in the past (and why having kids is no guarantee they will be able to look out for you); anticipated labor shortage in the elder care field (especially by the time we get there); and lack of government regulation in elder care has created less than ideal situations.
Liz suggested a way to combat the above issues mentioned above—organizing a circle of friends who come together for the specific purpose of watching each other's backs, so to speak. She gave about ten examples of how this has already been done, while pointing out it is a new area and open to lots of creativity--basically challenging us to come up with our own variations. She says you start with the the physical location you want to be--which means identifying the characteristics of the kind of community you want and will need around you--and then figuring out where that will be geographically. Then you move there, at least ten years before you think you're going to need help, and start building a circle of like-minded, trust-worthy friends who will pool efforts, urging each other on in the decisions they have to make, supporting each other through tough times, even potentially pooling resources for shared services, for example a part-time cook or a driver.
About this point in the presentation my group was poking each other, as we have half-kiddingly/half-seriously been talking about something like this for the last year or so--but we thought we had invented the idea!
She gave an interesting example from this region, a group she met in 2004. They were 12 people who had actually formed a non-profit for this purpose, some 15 years previous, and when she met them they were all in their late 80s. Their mission statement was "to do a great job of growing old." They met for monthly business meetings at the cafeteria of the local hospital, took minutes, and sent the minutes to all their adult children. At the meetings they checked in with each other and dealt with topics of aging and their various needs, problem-solving together, and planning together, and supporting each other intellectually and emotionally.
At their monthly business meetings they also had an "organ recital"--where they made each other be honest about their health conditions. They hired a PA (Physician's Assistant) on retainer to do talks on healthy aging at their business meetings, and to visit each of them in their homes, 2-3 times per year, to see how they were doing. They were the people named on each other's advance directives. since they were nearby should something happen, and were trusted friends who truly understood their intentions, since they would all focused on them together over the years.
And she gave the example of her own life: at the end of April, she's moving out of the town where she has lived for the last 20 years--and where she was giving today's seminar--because she decided she (1) could not afford to live there as she aged,(2) did not want to live in any of the assisted living or skilled nursing centers in that area, and (3) the area she selected has like minded people who were receptive to the circle of friends concept. [It is interesting to note her choice was a much smaller community, more close-knit. Not unlike the community I now live in, which was reassuring.]
A longer blog post than normal, but a very interesting topic and good food for thought. I mean, really, we all took time throughout our lives to plan our education and careers, organize our finances, and work out family choices; why would we ignore this phase of our lives? It needs to be planned just as thoughtfully and proactively, if not more so. I certainly plan to.
[Most of the recap above was written by one of my friends attending the workshop today. Thanks, Barbara!]