Deep Age and Life’s Leftovers

I reconnected with an old friend this week online—Dr. Laurie Ford. She has just started a new blog, Chute Me Through Deep Age. It has what seems to be a fairly unique perspective on a theme I had not thought too much about, but which makes a lot of sense. She has focused on the breakdowns associated with late-life aging—specifically, any of the dozens of conditions that can either severely handicap us including everything from mobility problems and incontinence to the nasties of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Anything that requires we enter a nursing home can sideline us, as well as a wide range of potential accidents.

Serene Ambition has been and continues be about transforming our cultural conversation from aging—and even late-life aging—being about loss and decline to being about possibility. This isn’t an optimistic forecast: it is a commitment. The forecast is that we will all go downhill at some point. Which is where “Chute Me Through” comes in. Laurie is learning how difficult it can be when our parents suddenly cannot take care of themselves. Moreover, she is correctly suggesting that we can and should prepare for the probability that we may find ourselves in that state sooner or later. The thought of losing our faculties is daunting: most of us are more than likely to deny that it will ever happen to us and hope we’re on the healthy end of the spectrum until the end. I think it may be easier to confront the fact that we will all die than to contemplate living some number of years with severely limited physical or diminishing mental capabilities.

Most of us are either prepared or in the process of preparing for our financial future. We prepare for our future financially through insurance, savings or planning to continue working. Many of us are hedging our bets through better diets and exercise. Yet even healthy people can fall and break a hip or become vulnerable to losing their mental capacities. The odds are that the longer we live, the more vulnerable we will be to some sort of disabling condition. Laurie’s site (and I understand she is writing a book on this topic as well) is to have us think through the steps we might take for this eventuality.

Like most future planning at any age, we are always balancing our responsibility for the downside should something happen, as well as living with an intention that we will never need to call on our ‘insurance’ or other contingency plans. In the case of infirmity and disability in old age, there are obviously millions of people who live healthy and vital lives until the end. Nonetheless, there are also millions who will not be able to care for themselves—financially, physically and/or mentally. Are we willing to take the risk that it won’t happen to us?

At her current stage of reflection, Laurie offers some helpful things to think about ranging from where do we want or need to be located to how we will pay for it, what we will require in terms of ongoing support, and what we want to do with “Life’s Leftovers”. As she points out, we all have a basement or garage full of stuff that if we don’t clean it up our children will have to. Most people think they will have time to do this stuff after they get older and can be taken by surprise if they haven’t thought through what needs doing before they can’t help themselves.

The obvious items like preparing a will, leaving a letter with dispositions of personal effects, instructions on what to do with our remains upon death are all pretty much standard in planning for our later years. What we might not think about is long-term care insurance, what we want to have with us if we’re confined to a room, or some reflections on how we want to handle our ‘pre-death’ issues should we be disabled (such as disposition of property, granting powers of attorney, and so forth). After reading Laurie’s blog, I am personally inspired to take on the organizing of my files sooner rather than later.

I had not heard the term “Deep Age” before, but it does point to a distinction that cannot be ignored. Making plans for the eventuality can be enormously helpful to our children and others who will otherwise need to make tough decisions on our behalf. It can also, like any aspect of being responsible, be a source of satisfaction and peace of mind for us. I look forward to reading more of Laurie’s thinking on this subject and would welcome your thoughts and comments as well.

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