How To Retain Control as You Age

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One of the founding fathers of our country, Benjamin Franklin, said “Never leave that ’til tomorrow which you can do today.” Great advice. We often follow it at work. We often follow it at home. We even try to follow it when it comes to our financial planning. But when it comes to planning for the final stage of our lives we often run screaming and hiding our heads in the sand. Why? One reason is that much of American life and culture denies the reality of aging. Just as Peter Pan hoped never to grow up, part of the collective American psychology does not want to acknowledge aging on a personal level.

In addition to our own psyches, there is a severe shortage of doctors trained in geriatric healthcare. Unfortunately, very few health professionals in the U.S. -physicians, nurses, psychologists, pharmacists, physical and occupational therapists, social workers-have been exposed to the techniques and knowledge of geriatric care as part of their professional training.

Add to the mix of our own fear of aging and the lack of geriatric training within the medical community, the fact that the number of people over 65 will double this year from 35 million to 70 million, and what we have is that the United States is not prepared for the coming senior boom.

According to a 2002 study conducted by the Alliance for Aging Research, there are 10 reasons why America’s health professionals are not adequately prepared for the coming Age Boom. These reasons include age denial, a scarcity of academic leaders, and the fact that geriatric medicine is not valued. Until the medical community comes up with solutions, what can individuals do? The first step is to plan, as Benjamin Franklin wisely said over two hundred years ago. Her are some steps we can take:

1. While you are still in control of your mind and body, decide what you want to happen when you grow older.

2. Tell Others. Don’t just keep it to yourself. Make your wishes known to your family members and physician.

3. Put it in writing. Make sure you have a durable power of attorney, healthcare proxy and directive.

4. Find the right doctor. Caring for an aging person can be complicated. The average senior citizen has three chronic medical conditions uses 10 prescriptions annually. Find medical professionals who will listen carefully to understand the patient’s entire medical situation.

5. Obtain an advocate. If your family member is at a distance, hire an experienced advocate. Studies show that patients with advocates get better treatment. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

6. See out support groups and community resources. These groups can serve as an effective clearinghouse for information and referrals to senior specific services

Finally, think about what Lillian Carter had to say when she was in her 80s, “sure I’m for helping the elderly. I’m going to be old myself one day.”

Michael Christian is the President of Patient Advocate solutions (PAS) of Middlesex, NJ

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