• Taking on managing my mom’s legal, financial, and medical care has been an astounding wake-up call to the lack of a social safety net for the aging in America, and the implications for my own generation.

    As a Gen Xer, I navigated the terrain of aging before I should have – before I even found my footing in adulthood.  By the time my mom turns 65 this summer, she will have already cycled through a half dozen retirement and elder care facilities.  With each move, her room got smaller, and we unloaded another tranche of material and emotional baggage.

    For us, like many families, the wake-up call came at crisis point.  Without long-term care insurance, my mom’s care was peaking at $11,000 a month – almost twice the average cost of American nursing homes.  Despite my parents’ responsible retirement planning, she was running out of money fast.

    During the real crisis period last spring and summer, my sister and I spent hours every day navigating legal, financial, and bureaucratic hurdles to make sure my mom was not kicked out on the street.  Our elder law attorney became our ‘frenemy’ – for months we were completely subservient to her daily email whip, making sure we didn’t slip up.

    When we did, it was like a game of Chutes and Ladders: we’d slide down to the beginning and start from scratch with new sets of paperwork. Often, by then, policies had changed, affecting the whole process.

    The process made us feel totally incompetent, triggering lifelong insecurities and anxieties.  It compromised our jobs and our relationships — with our parents, our partners, and each other.

    But there was a flipside.

    As we navigated my mom’s decline, we confronted the cycle of emotional baggage that shadowed our relationships with her, and her own relationship with her parents.  As we took over her financial and legal affairs, we were forced to get a grasp on our own relationships with money and planning.  As we coordinated between lawyers, social workers, and care givers, we opened new communication channels, with her and the rest of our family.  As we confronted decisions we were not remotely prepared for, we strengthened our patience and compassion.  She reciprocated as best she could.

    As Boomers enter the labyrinth of retirement and care planning and management, family members will inevitably find themselves facilitating complex eligibility and application processes, and bridging the gap with financial support.  Their adult children, like us, can expect to spend what amounts to weeks or even months of the calendar year sucked into the mire of this system.

    In the next twenty years, this phenomenon could easily double the losses to American businesses due to employees needing to care for aging loved ones – estimated by Metlife at $34 billion each year (about a third the Congressional Budget Office’s projected annual cost of the Obama Health Care Reform act.)

    In The Denial of Aging, Dr. Muriel R. Gillick argued that America’s social service infrastructure, by institutionalizing the division of the population into productive youth and used up elders, transformed our attitudes towards the aged from veneration to disdain.

    The Veneration Project is about counteracting that disdain, alleviating the burden and harnessing the potential of an aging society.

    To do that, we need to create open communication channels with our parents and peers about the implications of aging.

    Help us launch the project by introducing yourself and answering these three questions:

    1. When you think about aging (your parents’ or your own) what comes to mind?
    2. What are your toughest questions about aging – for your parents or peers?
    3. What support do you need to start talking to your parents about eldersabout aging – and move the conversation forward into concrete planning?

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    This entry was posted on Friday, May 6th, 2011 at 11:40 am and is filed under Policy & Business, Stories & Culture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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    1. [...] aspects of aging in America – legal, financial, social and emotional.  My first blog post, Wake Up Call, explains [...]

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