Attitude Adjustment on Aging

In “Planning for Life Events We Can’t Control” (Dec. 4), Jeff Taratoot rightly asks, “What plans have we made for our inevitable old age?” Millions of us who are looking after aging parents have much experience with that generation’s “plans” or lack thereof.

The most fortunate of us have parents with the means to pay for the Lenbrooks or Piedmonts or private-duty home care to which Taratoot refers. However, even money does not provide the emotional wherewithal to anticipate, manage and cope with the aging process that every one of us will experience, one way or the other.

Living longer and being healthier longer also mean being old for longer periods than most of our parents ever imagined or had to manage with their parents. If we don’t die suddenly, the period between healthy old through disabled to death can stretch for five to 10 to 20 arduous years.

I have been a hospice and geriatric social worker for 10 years and a primary caregiver to my 90-plus-year-old parents for five years. If I had a nickel for every old person who has despondently said, “I never thought I would end up this way,” I too might one day be able to afford a luxury senior community.

I will never have the financial resources my parents managed to pull together, which are evaporating with every day of their 24/7 care. In other ways, however, I will be much better prepared than they have been.

Why? Because I will never feel disappointed, victimized or unprepared for my physical or cognitive decline. I will do everything possible to maintain my physical and mental strength and well-being and expect, accept and adapt to my increasing debilities with modified activities and ambitions.

I will help create and move myself to an accessible and manageable care community of my peers rather than force my child to do this for me, kicking and screaming, in the midst of some terrible crisis. I will make it clear to my loved ones that after the age of 75, medical interventions such as surgeries and chemotherapies (much less feeding tubes and expensive treatments) are strictly off limits so that I can die as brief and natural a death as possible.

I will situate my life so that I can live well without driving rather than force my child to wrestle my keys away from me. I will appreciate any caregiving assistance I can get rather than yell, “I don’t need that! I don’t want those people hanging around my house!”

My mother’s incredibly deliberate, frugal and wise financial planning for old age has been a godsend for her, my dad and her children. The denial, shame, indignation, and refusal to recognize and accept their declining health and capacities have added an excruciating additional layer of pain, crisis and suffering to a heartbreaking series of losses.

This is the aspect of planning for old age upon which I hope my generation will improve, regardless of our finances. It would be an educational legacy to our children and a gift of grace to admire and appreciate.

— Jenifer J. Firestone, Atlanta, Weinstein Hospice social worker and volunteer coordinator