Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Cost of Care - Part 2: Act Now!

One of the things that I hope this blog does is encourage others to discuss long term care needs with their families. If  you have no parents (because you fell from the top of a baobab tree) then you have nothing to discuss. If you came to this planet the regular way, um, might I suggest a conversation is necessary? And soon? Because without a plan, care can (and often does) cost everything: every penny, every ounce of energy, every everything.

When Martha Stewart and Maria Shriver talked recently about how Alzheimer's Disease could, and well might, wipe families out financially, they weren't lying. And frankly, though it would probably take a small village of Alzheimer's patients to wipe Martha Stewart out financially, the point was well made.

We are fortunate in that even in these frightening circumstances, in the dark recesses of my mind, schemes continue to form. Thank God for B-school! One of those 'schemes', a retirement readiness seminar targeted to pre-retirees, retirees and the children of those, is probably the most viable way forward for me. By tapping in to and marrying what I've learned in the schools of business and caregiving, I might yet prevent another family from dealing with some of what we've dealt with over the last two years. The issues this situation has brought to us are ones I can speak to with rather more authority than I would prefer, but there you have it.

Here's the trouble with that plan though: most people would rather whistle past the cemetery at night, rather than go in and confront that which they fear. In short, folk just don't want to talk about it. And even if there is a relatively easy way of dealing with the frightening truth, people would often prefer to avoid the discussion altogether. Here's my response to that: don't freaking do it! Avoidance is beyond simply irresponsible, it's downright dangerous. As I've had to tell my own family, you're standing in a train station. The fact that there's no train in front of you doesn't mean that there isn't one a-coming. If you foolishly stand in the middle of the tracks, you can trust and believe you will be run over. Trying to scamper out of the way at the last minute? Bad idea. I'm just sayin'.

Case Study: a family I know well, avoided the conversation. This family was fortunate to have a family member who went to business school and had a pretty good head on her shoulders (who am I kidding, you know I'm talking about myself). But there were no words that could be employed to prompt action. Time went by, and nothing was done. Valuable assets lost value, and still nothing was done. At the time the topic was first broached, only one member of the senior generation was ill. Ten years on, two are ill and all are ten years older.

I understand all too well the reluctance to look closely at our finances and our long term care plan, but as one who lives in the land of the plan in action, let me suggest that you sneak a peak. To be here, where I am now, without something in place? Oh, the thought is too horrendous to contemplate.  So while I empathize with your discomfort, I know that having taken a look, I've been able to do something that has kept us well back from the financial precipice that care-giving very quickly drives families to and frequently off.

Creating a plan and executing that plan are  not easy. Hard decisions have to be made. Families may have to get comfortable with ideas never before considered: moving parents in; renting childhood homes to produce a continuing source of income; starting home-based businesses. All of these and more may need to be looked at but I can say with certainty that there are benefits. By making the right moves, hopefully at the right time, you can create a path that leads away from the precipice. Parents may prefer that the status quo remain in place (my mother certainly did), but that status quo will most assuredly steal tomorrow, theirs, yours and your children's. Act now.

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