by David S. Dixon, CFP®
This summer I lost my mother due to the effects of Alzheimer's disease. My mother was bright and vibrant and she always encouraged me to develop and improve my talents and abilities. She thought I could do anything. The last several years, and particularly the last 6 to 12 months, were filled with drama and heartache. Her vibrancy was replaced with anger, frustration and sometimes overwhelming confrontation. I lost my mother, long before she passed from this earthly home, to her heavenly home. She was 84 years old. I loved her and of course miss her. My father, who has survived her, is in good mental health, he too is 84, but he struggles with major health issues. In the last several years he has suffered a broken hip, numerous back surgeries, and most recently a broken femur. Miraculously he is recovering from these ailments but will most likely never get back to where he can live alone. He currently lives in a wonderful assisted living home and is well cared for and we are with him often.
As my brothers and sisters entered into the aging and dementia years with our parents, our eyes were opened to things we never imagined. We often were flying by the seat of our pants trying to figure out what to do. My father would often ask, "How do we fix this?" Well, the reality is, you don't fix it. You deal with it. You seek guidance and help from professionals and others who have experienced or are experiencing similar things. In all, it is a gut wrenching experience. You rely on your faith and the kindness of angelic caregivers and professionals to see you through. Those who cared for my mother, and are now caring for my father, are absolute angels. These people are a higher breed of goodness. They are amazing. I will be forever grateful.
Some weeks ago, I found a NY Times article written by Ron Lieber, entitled, "Hard-Won Advice in Books on Aging and Elder Care." Here is a link to the original article if you care to look it up: nytimes.com/2017/08/18/your-money/aging-elder-care-books.
In his article he provides an overview of four books that he found helpful in dealing with family members who are face this crippling disease and the family members who care for them. Having recently been through this experience, I am anxious to read these books. Mr. Lieber states in his article that "these books are all in their own way utterly essential reading. Few of us are prepared for the financial and emotional complexities of managing the last several years of our lives…as we live longer, drain what may prove to be inadequate retirement savings and lean harder on already strained government programs, we'll probably find ourselves facing ever more challenging questions and unfortunate compromises."
As indicated, it is my intent to read each one of these books, but in the meantime, I thought I would forward information about Mr. Lieber's timely article and refer to the summary that he provides for each book. In conclusion, no one anticipates that the difficulties of dementia in all of its forms, including Alzheimer's, will happen to us personally and no one would ever wish this on their worst enemy, but being prepared for what may happen is critical. If you wish to discuss how to use investments and insurance to assist in covering some of the eventual costs associated with aging, please call The Investment Center at CCCU and speak with our financial advisor, Mr. Morgan Baum. He can assist you in discussing how to best utilize your resources to plan and prepare for these events. His phone number is 701-939-3201. (See the book summaries below)
Mr. Lieber states in his article, that this "book is a good introductory text in part because of the sobering statistics. By age 85, 40 percent of people have some form of dementia. There are 350,000 falls each year that lead to broken hips. Once you've got a fracture there, there's a 40 percent chance you'll end up in a nursing home and a 20 percent chance you'll never walk again." Mr. Lieber quotes the author who states in the book, "It is not death that the very old tell me they fear, it is what happens short of death."
Mr. Lieber states that this "title is a sympathetic nod to what it feels like to care for someone with Alzheimer's, other dementias or memory loss." He also states, that "its value is in its encyclopedic nature, including detours into necessary but often uncomfortable topics like adult diapering …. These authors have clearly heard and seen it all."
Mr. Lieber states that "Ms. Gross takes us on a no-holds-barred tour through the years that she and her brother spent caring for their late mother. The author, a former New York Times reporter, is unafraid to admit all the mistakes she made out of sheer ignorance and how often even the most high-functioning adult children simply do not know what they do not know."
Mr. Lieber summarizes this book by stating, "There is no sugarcoating the number of physical and emotional challenges that come with aging, so it's clear why Ms. Veney's upbeat memoir of the years she has spent caring for her mother, Doris Woodward, who has dementia, is so appealing. Ms. Veney's steadfast focus on her own mental health is something others will want to mimic. Her aim is tranquility and patience, with an emphasis on reprogramming her reactions, like her frustration with being late."