Caregivers and Executors Matter: Dignified Aging Part I

Katherine Herczeg, MSN, APRN
Bitterroot Physicians Clinic South
3334 Dvn Lane, Darby MT 59829


Caregivers and Executors Matter: Dignified Aging Part I
Aging is an inevitable part of life. Some of us go through this process more gracefully than others and end-of- life planning seems to be a difficult task for many families. To understand the impact of our aging population, let me leave you with a few statistics and facts. Per Mark Mather (2016), "the number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to more than double from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060, and the 65-and- older age group's share of the total population will rise to nearly 24 percent from 15 percent." Given the average U.S. life expectancy has increased from 68 years to 79 years in 2013, it is plain to see why these numbers are doubling. This is due to reduction in mortality through access to healthcare and identification and treatment of chronic health conditions. The population reference bureau report summarizes that 27% of women ages 65-74 lived alone in 2014 and the aging of the baby boom generation could cause a 75% increase in the number of Americans ages 65 and older requiring nursing home care (Mather, 2016).

With aging as an established and inevitable statistic, it is important to have a plan for yourself and your family. In my experience, I have never heard the complaint "I wish (said family member or friend) hadn't been so prepared." I have however, witnessed the unexpected changes in health or loss of life in families that were not prepared for the change. These experiences have been observed in both my personal and professional life. The best time to plan of course would be when you have the physical and mental abilities to do so to ensure your plan meets your wishes. It is recommended that your caregivers and potential executors play a vital and knowledgeable role in this so your wishes will be carried through in the event you are unable to direct the process. A caregiver is anyone that regularly delivers your care and fulfills your basic needs. An executor, in this sense, is someone named in a will, or appointed by the court, who is given the legal responsibility to take care of a deceased person's remaining financial obligations. This means taking care of everything from disposing of property to paying bills and taxes. Most executors are immediate family members, with spouses, children and parents being the most common executors.

The only way to prepare your family for your aging is to prepare yourself. We cannot age alone, as we do not live alone. We need to reach out to those closest to us so that they can provide the support we want and need in the way we want. If you were no longer able to care for yourself, what would really matter to you? What brings joy and quality to your life? If you were no longer able to manage your finances, who would assist with this? If you were diagnosed with a life threatening condition, do you know what end-of- life healthcare measures you would want? If something happened to you today, would those closest to you know what medications you are on, who your health care provider is, your medical problems and allergies? Unfortunately, most of us live a life of reaction rather than being proactive. It is often emergencies, life-threatening illnesses or some accident that forces us to gather this information and ask really tough questions during a period of high stress. The best way to lessen this stress and take care of worry is to prepare yourself and your loved ones for your aging with a defined and written plan. A plan not shared, cannot be followed.

The two main areas to establish a written plan are: healthcare/medical and estate planning. Once these documents are completed, it is important to share them with a designee, loved one, health care provider and or medical facility in appropriate fashion. The terms "living will", "health care directive", and "advance directive", all refer to the legal document that lets people state their wishes for end-of- life medical care in the event they can't communicate for themselves. Without a legal document expressing those wishes, family members and health care providers are left to guess what a seriously ill person would prefer in terms of treatment. They may end up in painful disputes, which occasionally make it all the way to a courtroom.

In closing, I hope I have imparted on you the importance of planning during the aging process. Part II of this series will provide a checklist of questions and information to gather as well as local resources on obtaining assistance with these important documents. Part III is an invitation to the Caregivers and Executors Matter health class on Thursday, December 8th at Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital from 5:30pm to 7pm. Larry Johnson, Attorney at Law and I are hosting this class and looking forward to sharing more about being prepared for end-of- life and answering your questions.

For questions and or comments see you at the health class and or contact Katherine Herczeg, MSN, APRN at Bitterroot Physicians Clinic South, a clinic of Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital, at 3334 Dvn Lane, Darby MT 59829 or call (406) 375-4142. Working together to build a healthier community!

Mather, M. (2016). Fact Sheet: Aging in the United States. Retrieved from http://www.prb.org/Publications/Media-Guides/2016/aging-unitedstates-fact-sheet.aspx.
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