Friday, May 16, 2008

Time to Talk

"Baby boomers and their aging parents often shy away from discussions about money, estate planning and health care."

Denial, busy lives and reluctance to confront difficult issues keep many families from having these discussions, elder-care experts say. Parents can see their children's efforts to broach such topics as attempts to take control, while the adult children may shy away from intruding into their parents' lives. Money issues can be particularly touchy. So both sides put off asking and answering questions.

"Often it's, 'We're going to get around to it someday,' " said Marty Richards, a Seattle social worker and geriatric-care manager with 32 years' experience in aging issues. "Then the crisis comes and they're not ready."

Beth Witrogen McLeod knew something was wrong when she stepped into her parents' Wichita, Kan., home. Her mother smelled bad and her clothes were dirty. The normally immaculate house was cluttered and filthy, the floor spotted with food stains. McLeod later realized her mother, who suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease and early-stage dementia, had been trying to bring food to her cancer-stricken husband but often lacked the strength to handle the tray.

Thus began McLeod's yearlong struggle to care for her parents, an experience that wiped out her savings and that of her once-successful mother and father. Only death spared the elderly couple from bankruptcy; they died within weeks of each other after being moved to a nursing home. Because of poor planning, life insurance proceeds and retirement savings that could have gone to McLeod went to pay creditors and lawyers' fees.

Source: Time to Talk - LA Times

Bay Area resident McLeod, who wrote about her experience in the new book "Caregiving: The Spiritual Journey of Love, Loss, and Renewal", knows now that at least some of the emotional and financial pain could have been spared had her family discussed some important issues of aging: estate planning, health care and dealing with incapacity.

For years, Beth Witrogen McLeod was the moderator for the AARP Caregivers Online Support Group. She provided direct and sensitive answers to some of the most difficult questions a family member or caregiver could ask, demonstrating a unique understanding of the challenges of Alzheimer's disease and the issues caregivers face.

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