closeup pensive senior male looking out of window

Dave and Jill were busy professionals in their 40s with two adolescent children when Dave’s mother started to show signs of memory failure. It was slow-progression Alzheimer’s, and over time she became more and more confused and eventually lost all ability to communicate. Throughout those years, Dave and Jill helped as much as they could, while at the same time juggling their own careers and raising their children.

Dave’s father dedicated years to looking after his wife, but when her care needs became too great, the family faced the very difficult decision of transitioning them out of the home they’d always known together, as well as navigating the complexities of the elder care system. Dave’s mother spent her final years in a long-term care facility, where at least one family member would go every day to visit and to help with meals until her passing.

Fast-forward another five years, which was just at the point when Dave and Jill were excited to be entering retirement, and they were dealt another tough hand. Both Jill’s mother and Dave’s father began experiencing fairly sharp cognitive decline. Dave and Jill’s daily routine quickly became engulfed with looking after their parents—and acting as attorneys under their parents’ Powers of Attorney.

Both of their parents are now settled in long-term care facilities, and as Dave and Jill reflect on this challenging journey, they really wish they’d sat down with their parents early on to talk about their plans and the “what-ifs” and that they’d better understood what was involved when you take over as attorney for a loved one (for both financial and personal care decisions). Because there were so many question marks as they waded into their roles as caregivers and acting as attorneys, Dave and Jill feel like they missed out on precious time with their parents and have often been overwhelmed by uncertainty and stress in the decisions they’ve had to make along the way. 

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While their story is a difficult one, the silver lining for Dave and Jill is that these personal experiences have actually helped them with their own planning. By going through it first-hand, they now recognize the critical importance of being proactive, having those important conversations with loved ones as early as possible and knowing what options and resources are out there.

Situations like this one are becoming increasingly familiar for so many families. According to the Government of Canada, more than 400,000 Canadians age 65 and over are living with diagnosed dementia, and that number is expected to double by the year 2030. Other statistics also indicate there are approximately 25,000 new Alzheimer’s cases each year. Recognizing that January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month in Canada, I think it’s important we take time to zero in specifically on these realities of dementia and the importance of planning ahead when it comes to potential age-related health concerns.

Situations of disability—among seniors and those in other age demographics—is something that our Wealth Management team is seeing more of these days, and for the people and families it affects, the impact is real and the personal and financial tolls can be huge. Family wealth can be complex at the best of times, and when a situation of disability gets layered on, the level of complexity grows substantially. This is one of the reasons that helping families with all forms of disability planning is such a key priority within our team.

With this in mind, it’s important to think ahead about how aging may impact your financial resources and to have a clear idea of what the costs of care really are, whether that’s a retirement home, assisted living or in-home nursing, for example. Another key planning component is a Power of Attorney—beyond having a valid document in place, people really need to take the time to understand how it works, the power behind it for financial and personal care decisions, and the duties and responsibilities of the person or party you choose to act on your behalf. And throughout the planning process, the piece that really brings it all together is that ongoing dialogue with family members so no one ends up left in the dark with the pressures of facing a mountain of decisions.

Look, I know getting older is no fun (unless you’re 19 and can’t wait to be 20) and seeing the people you love getting older around you is even less fun. But aging is a fact of life, and I believe that proactively building an awareness about it, talking about it, and appropriately planning for it are some of the best ways to gain peace of mind that no matter what happens, your wishes and intentions will be carried out and you and your family will be well-positioned to handle the challenges and spend more time focusing on what really matters.    

Interested in reading more about age-related health realities and planning considerations? Please read the Perspectives magazine article, Is age but a number? from the spring 2018 edition.

More information on Alzheimer’s Awareness Month can be found here.