Recently I visited Italy, marveling at the buildings that had been in that spot for literal centuries, or ruins that were a couple layers of archeological lasagna below a centuries-old structure. I thought my house in St Louis was old, clocking in at 85 years when I sold it! However, what I was reminded of in Italy is that in terms of “old”, everything is relative.
I have several care receivers who are in their 80s and early 90s who have widely different mobility, cognitive and satisfaction levels. Chronic health issues, deteriorating memory, mobility challenges all contribute to how “old” a person truly seems. The way a person processes loss of independence and grief, as well as their baseline ability to deal with change can also “age” a person. Physical or emotional upheaval can certainly impact a person’s perceived age, leaving them unrecognizable. Dwelling on the past or fearing the future tends to age us as well.
On the other hand, there are plenty of things that keep us young. Adopting new technology, learning a new hobby or skill, relationships that challenge us to grow and learn. I have a friend who has a goal to cultivate a significant relationship with at least one person in each decade of life (teens, twenty-somethings, thirties, etc). This allows her to be in touch with what is going on throughout different stages of life, not just her own. I think this diversity can also keep us young.
As I survey my loved ones, I am thankful that I have a church friend as young as 5 (who greets my stuffed hamster before greeting me, but nevertheless, a friend), niece and nephew who are teenagers, a social media diva posting this for me in her 20s, her husband who just turned 30, I am in my mid-40s, my travel buddy who is 50-something, walking companions in their 60s, pet sitting and Family Link clients in their 70s, beloved neighbors in their 80s and several care receivers in their 90s. It amazes me how similar some of these people are: their interests, their concerns, their joy. And how different they can be: their experiences, the losses they have suffered, the way they communicate. All of them enrich my life. They keep me focused on the present, too, because we are sharing our lives as it is happening.
Cross-generational and cross-cultural relationships can be a fountain of youth that provides margin for whatever may be crouching at your door that wants to “age” you. Or maybe you are quite young at heart yourself and can take years off someone else by sharing some laughter or sharing their load. Are you a caregiver and feel isolated because of your responsibility? Perhaps you are getting older and feel like every year brings another litany of friends and family who have died? Do you just need some perspective in your own life because you are in a hard season?
Scroll through your phone or your social media. How diverse are the people in your life? Try to reach out and find someone in a stage of life that isn’t like yours. Challenge yourself to cultivate a conversation or deepen a relationship with someone who thinks or believes differently than you. Perhaps it is while you get the oil changed in your car or maybe it can be online with someone who is home-bound. Your unique perspectives and experiences will stimulate your minds and your hearts as you share with one another. Stave off old age by living fully today.
When my father retired, his employer included a negotiated rate for a long term care (LTC) insurance policy as one of his benefits. It was $67 per month for the premium. He paid out $16,080 over 20 years that I am sure at times he resented, never imagining a scenario where it would be useful. Then, on June 7, 2012, things changed literally instantly. My parents were hit by another driver. Their car was totaled. They spent 7 weeks in rehab which was covered by their personal and bodily injury auto insurance. They were unable to ever return to their split-level ranch home. And I was suddenly in charge of their finances and realizing they had long been living only on social security and my father’s pension, no savings.
While I was sorting through the insurance issues over the car and personal injury claims, a friend recommended that I talk to a co-worker about options. He asked me if my parents had long term care insurance, but I assumed they did not. Then, in leafing through files at the house in New York, I found a file labeled LTC, filled with paper statements of paid premiums. I am all about going paperless, but in this situation, I was thrilled to have my hands on all the information in one place. I showed it to my co-worker who used to be in insurance, but said there was no way it would cover them because they did not have major disabilities or terminal diagnoses. My co-worker encouraged me to file a claim. He said, “It does not count against you if they reject the claim, so you have nothing to lose. Just let them decide if it kicks in or not.” So I called that day.
They sent a nurse out to evaluate my parents and determine if they were eligible for a claim. She noted my father’s concussion and memory loss, as well as his compromised mobility and frequent falls (which were later diagnosed as Parkinson’s). She also noted my mother’s dependence upon her walker and that she required assistance to do most tasks like meal preparation and bathing as a result of the injury to her hand in the accident. The nurse decided that they were not going to improve much beyond the intensive therapy they had already received in rehab and that both qualified for the LTC benefits they had paid into all these years. I was sad about their limitations but thrilled that they had options now.
The folks at the insurance company walked me through the paperwork and explained what would be required on my end. The way my parents’ policy was set up through my dad’s employer was that they each had a certain total dollar amount which either could be used to reimburse 80% of home care or 100% of assisted living costs. Once they reached that dollar limit, which was worth over 18 times what they had paid in, regardless of how much time that took, that was it. The reimbursement could only be paid to my parents, not the company providing care, so in order to use the money, I had to pay the bill first and then submit the bill to be reimbursed. So, every month I pay the assisted living directly and send the invoice to the insurance company. Then the LTC company deposits the reimbursement into my mother’s bank account and sends me a statement showing how much of the total claim is available after this deduction.
It gave me space to breathe and figure out how best to handle the funds from the car accident settlement and the sale of their house of 40 years without having to eat into that immediately. It gave me the opportunity to let them stay together after almost 50 years of marriage even though they had very different levels of care in terms of activities of daily living assistance. It gave me peace of mind that I could invest the proceeds from the sale of the house and the accident, instead of keeping them liquid and burning through them with no actual plan for my parents outliving those funds. It gave me as an unmarried caregiver the option to keep them safe and in a community environment while I continued to work full time.
So, are there hoops to jump through? Yes. Do I wish the balance remaining when my father died in 2015 could have been applied to my mother’s policy? Absolutely. Is the stability of a quality care facility without frequent moves and availability of staff in emergencies and the friends with whom my mother eats her meals and my infrequent hamster-wheel thoughts about my mother’s finances worth some paperwork and a few phone calls? Undeniably. If you are not sure your loved one will qualify for their long term care benefits yet so you are holding off, don’t. Call as soon as possible and ask for an evaluation. The worst they can say is no. If you are of an age that you are considering LTC coverage for yourself, call this week.
Anita is the founder of Family Link and wants to share with you some tools and thoughts to help you with the complex responsibility of managing the care of aging loved ones while still managing the other aspects of your life.