Archive for the ‘Medicare’ Category

“2020 Vision for Successful Aging”

Tuesday, September 8th, 2020

aging elders seniorsNJ Foundation for Aging is honored that the North Jersey Alliance of Age-Friendly Communities, a partner organization, wrote about their impressions of our 22nd annual conference and shared them with us as a guest blog.


Mornings on the golf course. Weekends with the grandkids. Vacations to dreamed-of destinations.

These are the visions of “successful aging” in many people’s minds, reflections of the one-dimensional view of growing old that is all too pervasive in our culture.

Not that those pretty images of retirement life aren’t experiences that people should desire. But without taking a deeper look at all the potential challenges and opportunities of growing older, many individuals will fail to anticipate later-in-life needs and desires.

In its advocacy work, the New Jersey Foundation for Aging routinely seeks to widen the lens that society trains on the lives and livelihoods of older adults, and the organization’s annual conference this year succeeded in doing just that.

Titled “2020 Vision for Successful Aging,” the conference, held virtually on Aug. 13 and 14, featured presentations on how aging intersects with a range of other policy issues from climate change to LGBTQ rights to immigration policies.

The conference also sought to open attendees’ eyes to the ways in which ageism is so widely normalized and internalized that it can often lead to us making uninformed individual and societal decisions that limit older adults’ choices in later years.

LONGEVITY COSTS

In a keynote address, Cynthia Hutchins, director of financial gerontology for Bank of America Merrill, said people shouldn’t avoid thinking about uncomfortable questions such as how long they might live and whether they will need some form of caregiving at some point.

“Longevity has changed the way we plan for our health and our health-care needs,” Hutchins said.

prolonged health care

Previous generations didn’t envision living decades in retirement, but Baby Boomers and the generations that come after them will need to have a better understanding of such things as the limits of Medicare, the different options for long-term care, and how the financial and lifestyle choices they make early on can affect future health and happiness, Hutchins said.

In her presentation, Hutchins pointed out that, although one’s future health might be an unknown, there are useful projections individuals need to be aware of, such as that out-of-pocket health care costs between the ages of 65 and 80 can equal $114,000, and then grow to $247,000 by age 90 and $458,000 by age 100.

Figures like these might seem unbelievable to the average individual, but failing to adequately discuss and plan for future scenarios is what often leads to individuals having inadequate plans, and our government institutions having inadequate policies for the aging of the population.

At the root of our society’s unpreparedness for aging is often ageism, which includes the “prejudice against our future selves” that many of us possess.

Ageism was a focus of several workshops at the two-day conference, some of which examined how it can evolve into elder abuse or translate into a lack of advocacy on key issues that older adults and their advocates should be speaking about more often.

CLIMATE CHANGE + AGING

Climate change is foremost among those issues. Often portrayed as an issue of more concern to younger people worried about the future, what’s often overlooked is the fact that older people are the ones who tend to suffer the most harm from the severe storms and climbing temperatures that are already the result of our warming planet.

climate change and agingJeanne Herb of the New Jersey Climate Change Resource Center at Rutgers University shared data showing that older people are at more risk of heat-related hospitalizations and more likely to have chronic conditions exacerbated by severe weather and the power outages and service interruptions that can result from them.

Similarly, older adults and their advocates need to be aware of how immigrants and people in the LGBTQ community are subject to more discrimination and barriers to housing and supportive services as they age, other panelists at the conference argued.

AGEISM/STEREOTYPES

In addition, the coronavirus pandemic has brought to light the way ageism, and bias toward disenfranchised groups, can lead to alarming disparities in disease exposure and treatment outcomes and to the many gaps and weaknesses in New Jersey’s long-term care systems, many speakers pointed out.

Organizers of the conference hoped that it would serve as a call to action, and ideas were shared on how to combat ageism with intergenerational programming and through the arts.

Katie York, director of Lifelong Montclair and the township’s senior services department, described the results of a study she helped guide on how performing arts programs can help lessen age stereotypes among young and old.

ageism, age-friendly communitiesThe study entailed recruiting 72 individuals – ranging in age from 20 to 82 – to perform in skits that reflected age stereotypes. Afterward, participants were surveyed on whether the performances had altered their perceptions of aging and generational differences.

As director of Lifelong Montclair, a now-five-year-old age-friendly community initiative, York said she has come to “recognize the need for culture change as a foundational element of age-friendly efforts.

“As more people understand the scope and value of our work on culture change, I believe our work will be that much more significant, and those battles we face along the way will be that much easier,” York said.

Julia Stoumbos, director of aging-in-place programs for The Henry & Marilyn Taub Foundation, said the NJFA conference provided many useful insights into how the leaders of age-friendly communities can help change views of aging, and also the steps that community leaders take to support the goal of aging in comfort, dignity, and safety.

“Often, the approach that communities take in addressing the needs of older adults is compartmentalized. There’s a big emphasis on leisure and recreation – planning Zumba classes and bus trips to Atlantic City.  There’s also a tendency to medicalize old age, with programs focused on how to combat it or treat it like a disease.” ~ Julia Stoumbos, director of aging-in-place programs for The Henry & Marilyn Taub Foundation

“Often, the approach that communities take in addressing the needs of older adults is compartmentalized,” Stoumbos said. “There’s a big emphasis on leisure and recreation – planning Zumba classes and bus trips to Atlantic City.  There’s also a tendency to medicalize old age, with programs focused on how to combat it or treat it like a disease.

“Those narrow approaches can sometimes lead to older adults being treated as if they are separate from the rest of the community, as if they are less invested in issues that affect all people at all ages,” Stoumbos said.

“Older adults have no less of a stake in the major issues of the day. They need to be empowered to stay engaged on these subjects, and communities need to make sure they are bringing the generations together in conversations about the weighty issues that affect quality-of-life for all.”


The age-friendly movement was first envisioned by the World Health Organization in 2005 as a way to find local strategies to prepare for the global challenges and opportunities of an aging population. The North Jersey Alliance of Age-Friendly Communities is supported by The Henry & Marilyn Taub Foundation and the Grotta Fund for Senior Care. Together those foundations are funding age-friendly initiatives in 16 communities in five counties – Bergen, Essex, Morris, Passaic and Union – which together have a population of more than a half-million people. The alliance also works in partnership with NJFA, AARP New Jersey, New Jersey Future and Rutgers University.

Testimony given by NJFA Executive Director Melissa Chalker to the inaugural meeting of the Assembly Senior Services Committee, 1/27/2020

Thursday, February 6th, 2020

 

The New Jersey Foundation for Aging’s Executive Director, Melissa Chalker, was invited to testify at the inaugural meeting of the Assembly Senior Services Committee on January 27, 2020. The committee includes Chair Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Vice-Chair Shanique Speight and members BettyLou DeCroce, DiAnne C. Gove, Angela V. McKnight and P. Christopher Tully. This was Melissa’s testimony. To read more about the meeting, see the NJ Spotlight coverage here.

“Good afternoon, Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle and members of the Assembly Senior Services Committee. Thank you for this opportunity to speak with you today. I am Melissa Chalker and I’m the Executive Director of the nonprofit New Jersey Foundation for Aging (NJFA).

NJFA was founded in 1998 by four County Office on Aging Directors. They wanted to create a statewide organization that would address public policy issues related to the changing and diverse needs of our growing aging population. Since then, we have worked with a wide variety of partner organizations, as well as state government officials, to enable older adults to live with independence and dignity in their communities.

Today, I would like to tell you about NJFA’s advocacy priorities and present some current data related to older adults.

FINANCIAL INSECURITIES

NJFA developed the state’s first Elder Index Report — a cost-of-living table — in 2009. In 2015, the NJ State Legislature passed a bill that mandated the use and updating of the report by the Dept. of Human Services — specifically the Div. of Aging Services, which I am sure my friends from the Division can tell you more about.

From the first report in 2009, through the national database update that was unveiled last week, this Elder Index data allows us to look at the cost of living for seniors in NJ, determine how many fall below the Elder Index Benchmark ($29,616 a year for a single elder renter) and focus on how they can be supported by public benefits and other programs to fill the gap.

Because of the Elder Index research, we know that 8% of New Jersey’s older adults live at or below the federal poverty level. Those seniors are among our most vulnerable — both financially and medically.

Additionally, Social Security is the only source of income for 30% of older adults in New Jersey. The average annual Social Security benefit for a retired elder in NJ is $18,065. We know that number is even lower for women, plus there are many other seniors who receive far less than the average benefit. We have received calls and letters from older adults seeking help, stating that they are trying to get by on their monthly Social Security benefit of $700. After paying their rent and health care premiums, they are often left with $100 or less for groceries, co-pays and other expenses.

In addition to those seniors living below the federal poverty level, there are older adults who may be above that benchmark, but still struggling to meet all their basic needs. In fact, the most recent NJ Elder Economic Security Index indicates that more than half (54%) of New Jersey’s seniors do not have the annual income needed to provide for their basic needs. This is what is referred to as New Jersey’s statewide Elder Economic Insecurity Rate (EEIR). These are the older adults that we refer to as being “in the gap.” That gap is having income too high to qualify for government programs, but too low to adequately cover basic expenses.

The Elder Index statistics influence much of NJFA’s advocacy work, including, but not limited to, affordable and accessible homes, nutrition and food security, and access to quality healthcare. However, this data should serve as a reminder that the state must also consider older adults when discussing tax relief programs — including property taxes — and review the structure of retirement income taxes, compared to that of neighboring states.

HOUSING INSECURITIES

Ensuring that New Jersey’s aging population has safe and affordable housing is also imperative. Two years ago, we convened a stakeholder group, which developed a policy recommendation report. I have provided a copy for each of you to review [see the report here].

In the 10 recommendations listed, you will see that we are suggesting increases in vouchers and units for older adults within existing housing programs. We also identified ways to streamline the process and implement incentives to provide more housing to older adults that is safe, affordable and accessible.

When we consider the housing needs of seniors, we must consider every senior — there is no one-size-fits-all for older adults. When implementing policies and programs, we need to recognize seniors with chronic health conditions and those who are facing economic insecurity.

Additionally, there are middle-income seniors who struggle to find appropriate, accessible places to live in their communities of choice, and worry about being able to afford all their retirement expenses — including the potential need for long-term care services, which can add up to $50,000 a year to their costs depending on the level of care. Along with our partners, we’re engaged in discourse about age-friendly communities, particularly how social and wellness services can better be incorporated.

FOOD INSECURITIES

Much like anyone in any age category, the nutritional needs of seniors are a priority. Protecting the SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] program from Federal cuts would ensure that those who rely on the program will still be able to access healthy foods. What we have learned from partners doing outreach with seniors is that often an older adult on SNAP is better able to follow a doctor’s dietary guidelines because of this benefit.

One area of need, though, is finding and educating seniors who do not know about the SNAP program, or those who fear the stigma of public benefits and the stories about the difficulty in applying for the program. My friends at the Division of Aging Services can confirm that there has been under enrollment of seniors in SNAP for quite some time.

An improvement to SNAP program would be a Standardized Medical Deduction for seniors applying for SNAP, which would make it easier for seniors to take advantage of the medical deduction provision. Having one max deduction amount that all seniors could utilize would make it easier for them to apply for, and receive, SNAP.

FAMILY CAREGIVERS

The issues and struggles surrounding informal, unpaid family caregivers have been well documented. Family members provide most of the care for older adults and individuals with disabilities here in NJ. Our healthcare system will need to respond to the continued growth of the 65+ demographic over the next decade. Relying on family caregivers to fulfill all facets of care is unrealistic; but we know that it will become a necessity for many. Therefore, we need to not only look at policy changes to the healthcare system, but also the support of caregivers.

There is an urgent need to bring greater public awareness to this issue and to advocate for caregivers. Expanding access to home-based, long-term care services for NJ’s older adults would provide some relief in that area. The state has done a great job increasing the number of people who receive home- and community-based services through the state’s MLTSS [Managed Long Term Services and Supports] program.

Therefore, NJFA continues to participate in dialogue around the need for a policy or program to address those who fall in the gap between eligibility for Medicaid and the ability to pay privately for care.

In conclusion, there is no single answer to “how do we better serve older adults in NJ,” because there isn’t just one issue. Across our nation (and even the world), longevity is increasing, which is good news. However, that means that society’s ageist views, which place barriers on the road to aging well, need to be dismantled now. Investing dollars into housing, nutrition and healthcare services (including those that benefit caregivers) will ensure that everyone in NJ has the opportunity to live a long and healthy life.

Thank you for your time.”

The Importance of Programs

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019

By Mason Crane-Bolton

Have questions about what services are available to you? We have answers! | via Pixabay

 

The Importance of Programs

There are many programs available for eligible older adults, but not everyone is signed up for them. Some people aren’t aware of the types and specific programs available and others may know the programs, but don’t believe they’ll qualify for assistance. In today’s blog post we’ll take a brief overview of the types of programs available and why they’re important.

Why are these programs important? Often, due to a number of circumstances, including unforeseen medical costs, outliving one’s planned savings, needing to leave the workforce early or for lengthy periods due to medical or caregiving needs (and so on), older adults often find themselves with far fewer financial resources than they need to survive. The impacts of these problems are especially noticeable in a high-cost state such as New Jersey. Research on the issue, such as the Elder Economic Security Index (EESI), has repeatedly showcased the difficulties faced by older adults continuing to age in New Jersey. Older adults face higher risks of homelessness, hunger, and delayed or neglected medical care due to their financial means. Although the programs listed below help to combat these disturbing trends, these programs are also often threatened by financial cuts, changes in eligibility requirements, and lack of legislative or community support.

Food Assistance

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) may the one of the most well-known of the food assistance programs. Another popular program is the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP), which “promotes nutritional health among New Jersey’s senior citizens by providing them with locally grown fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs.”

Check your eligibility and apply for SNAP here: Apply for SNAP

Medical Assistance

In addition to Medicare, there are several other programs for older adults, including prescription assistance. The Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged & Disabled program (PAAD) is a state-funded program that helps eligible seniors and individuals with disabilities save money on their prescription drug costs.

To learn more about applying for Medicare go to the Social Security Administration’s website here: Social Security Administration: Medicare

To learn more about applying for PAAD, the Senior Gold Prescription Discount Program, and other Medicare savings programs, continue to the section on the new NJ Save application and follow this link: NJ Save Application

Assistance for Homeowners

For eligible homeowners, assistance is available with your property taxes. The Property Tax Reimbursement Program (popularly known as the Senior Freeze Program) and the Homestead Benefit Program are available to older adults who qualify.

Learn more about the eligibility requirements and how to apply for the Property Tax Reimbursement Program here: NJ Property Tax Reimbursement Program a.k.a. “Senior Freeze”

Heating and Cooling Assistance

The Low-Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) “helps very low-income residents with their heating and cooling bills, and makes provisions for emergency heating system services and emergency fuel assistance within the Home Energy Assistance Program.”

Check your eligibility and download the application for LIHEAP here: Apply for LIHEAP

Multi-Program Savings and Application

New Jersey’s new application NJ Save allows eligible older adults and those with disabilities to apply and enroll in the following programs simultaneously:

-Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled (PAAD)

-Senior Gold Prescription Discount Program

-Lifeline Utility Assistance

-Medicare Savings Programs (SLMB & QI-1)

-Medicare Part D’s Low Income Subsidy (aka “Extra Help”)

-Hearing Aid Assistance to the Aged and Disabled (HAAAD)

The application is also used to screen for LIHEAP, SNAP, and Universal Service Fund (USF). In addition, individuals who qualify for PAAD and Lifeline Utility Assistance through NJ Save may also be eligible for Property Tax Freeze (“Senior Freeze”), reduced motor vehicle fees, and low-cost spay/neuter for pets.

Learn more about NJ Save and apply here: Apply Through NJ Save

Programs aimed to assist our most vulnerable often seem out of reach for many, and while it may be true that these programs all have eligibility requirements, many programs are under utilized. Remember that only 48% of eligible older adults in New Jersey are currently receiving SNAP benefits. Rather than assume you don’t meet the eligibility requirements, look into the requirements for each program (or use the NJ Save application) and apply for all the programs you meet the criteria for. Regardless of what assistance level you might receive from an individual program, each benefit can help you and even small benefit amounts can quickly add up to substantial assistance across several programs!

 

If you have feedback or would like to be part of the conversation, leave us a comment below or email us as [email protected].

Come back for our next blog! New posts are published on the first and third Thursdays of each month.


Mason Crane-Bolton is Communications Manager for the New Jersey Foundation for Aging. His writing has appeared in EpiphanyUU WorldTo Wake/To Rise, and others. 

Medicare Fraud. How We Can Fight it.

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

Today we bring you a blog post from guest blogger and NJFA friend Charles Clarkson, Project Director of the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey.


By Charles Clarkson, Project Director, Senior Medicare Patrol of NJ

 

Medicare fraud is estimated to cost American taxpayers $60 billion a year, monies that are siphoned off and are not available for legitimate Medicare services. At the Senior Medicare Patrol of NJ (SMP), which is a federally funded program, we want to educate Medicare beneficiaries so they do not become victims of Medicare fraud. There are steps Medicare beneficiaries can take to fight this fraud. The most important step is to protect your Medicare number. Even though Medicare issued new Medicare cards to all beneficiaries with randomly generated numbers and letters and removed the social security number from the cards, the Medicare number (now known as the Medicare Beneficiary Identifier) is still very valuable to fraudsters who can use it to bill Medicare. Beneficiaries should not give out their Medicare numbers to anyone they don’t trust. This is especially true for the many beneficiaries who receive robo calls on a constant basis. The rule of thumb is to never pick up the phone if you do not recognize the telephone number on your message machine. Let the message machine screen all of your calls and then you can decide to return the call or not. Most beneficiaries will find that no message is left and they can then ignore the call.

The next step is to always read your Medicare Summary Notice (MSN), the document a beneficiary receives from Medicare usually 3 months after seeing a Medicare provider. It is important for beneficiaries to review their MSN, not just because of fraud but because mistakes can also happen.

Step three is to keep a personal health care journal or calendar. Record every time you see a medical provider, take a test or have other services provided. When you get your MSN compare it with your journal or calendar. Make sure you are not being scammed. If you are not sure something is fraud or you have a question about the billing, call your provider and ask for an explanation.

Step four is to report any suspected fraud or error. This step is vitally important. Failure to report will translate into the provider getting away with any fraud or errors. Remember, this is your money. You pay Medicare premiums, co-pays, co-insurance, deductibles and other charges. If you need assistance in fighting Medicare fraud, as you were unable to resolve it yourself, call the SMP. Our telephone number is 732-777-1940 and our hot-line number if 877-SMP-4359. A beneficiary can also use our web-site to report a fraud on the form provided. Visit seniormedicarepatrolnj.org

Even if you are not sure if it is fraud but need questions answered, call us. We are a free service and we are here to help. Every beneficiary should feel empowered to help fight Medicare fraud. At the SMP we want to keep Medicare as a viable program that is there for every beneficiary.


Charles Clarkson is Project Director of the Senior Medicare Patrol of NJ

How to Age Well: Planning Your Path, Part 2: Home, Health, and “After I’m Gone…”

Thursday, May 2nd, 2019

By Mason Crane-Bolton

Have you planned for future health and home changes? | Photo via pexels.com

 

There is no way to get aging “right”…

 

…But it does help to plan.

Something is happening each and every day across New Jersey. Across the United States. Across the entirety of the planet.

We are all getting older.

Like it or not, each and every one of us is on a journey of aging. From the moment we are born until the moment we die, we are aging.

We tend to think of aging as being something saved for an arbitrary age, like 50, 60, 65,…etc. We could list off the ages at which society (for one reason or another) has decided we’ve hit a certain benchmark in aging. Whether it’s Social Security benefits, Medicare enrollment, retirement, “senior citizen” discounts, or a screening your doctor now wants you to undergo, we tend to have these changes attached to specific ages or with “being of a certain age.” We think of them as being times in our life when a monumental change has occurred, a mark of “aging.”

But the truth is, regardless of what arbitrary number might be assigned to program enrollments or coupons, we don’t age in random, sudden leaps. We age constantly and gradually. While this might make it tempting to wait to plan for your later years, you should plan now. No one wants to be caught unawares by changes as you age or a sudden health crisis, so it makes sense to plan for your later years as early as possible. Think of planning now as training for becoming an older adult.

What if you already consider yourself an older adult? That’s not to say this blog doesn’t apply to you too! It absolutely does—no matter where you are or where you consider yourself to be in your path of aging, it makes sense to plan now for the road ahead, whether that road is two days or twenty years from now!

Having plans in place will mitigate much stress and bad decision-making in emergency situations. Much heartache and avoidable stressed is caused by being forced to make difficult decisions in the heat of the moment; time spent worrying about what the best decision is and then wondering if the right decision is the one you made.

What are some priorities to focus on? We’re so glad you asked. In this three-part series we’ll cover different aspects of how-to age well as we lead up to our 21st Annual Conference. If you’d like to register for the conference but haven’t yet, go to www.njfoundationforaging.org for more information.

This week we’ll cover: home, health, and “after I’m gone.”

 

Home

Wherever you live, there are changes you can make today for a better home tomorrow. A home that’s better suited to your future self.

Area rugs may be soft on your feet, but they can be a major trip hazard. Remove area rugs to prevent falls and cut down on your number of tripping hazards. If you still want something soft for your feet, consider installing carpets—these aren’t as trip-free as hard floors, but better than area rugs. Also, stay in the habit of wearing secure shoes instead of open-toed sandals or loose slippers around your home.

Although we covered many changes that may be needed due to mobility changes in the first part of this blog series (How to Age Well: Planning Your Path, Part 1), it’s also worth considering what changes you may want to make for your own comfort or peace of mind.

If your home is too large for you to comfortably handle, you may want to consider downsizing. Constant upkeep and cleaning of rooms that aren’t being used can take a toll on your energy and your money. If you’re concerned about having rooms available for visiting friends and family, let them stay at nearby hotels, motels, or Airbnb listings while they’re visiting. Not having to pay for extra heat, air conditioning and electricity, or regularly clean an infrequently used room, will make the visits more fun for everyone.

And if you missed it in the first part in our series, we have a link to help you find an aging-in-place specialist in your area: Living in Place.

 

Health

Whether or not you consider yourself to be in good health now, chances are that sooner or later you’ll have to face potential health issues. And even if you’re blessed with good health for the rest of your life, it’s a good idea to plan for a potential emergency. Whether it’s the diagnosis of a long-term illness or a broken ankle after a tumble on a running trail, illnesses and accidents happen—it’s best to be prepared.

First, learn your family medical history as best as you can and share this information with your medical providers. Is there a family history of cancer? Heart disease? Glaucoma or cataracts? Dementia or Alzheimer’s? Have you been previously diagnosed with any conditions or illnesses? Your medical provider should be alerted to any family or personal health history you have—this isn’t a guarantee you’ll have the same conditions, but a way for your physician to know what they should pay special attention to and screenings or treatments that could best benefit you. And remember that routine screenings and hygiene appointments, such as dental exams and cleanings, should be done regardless of age.

Interview your medical providers. If they don’t have a good understanding of aging in medicine or make you uncomfortable, look for a provider better suited to your needs. Many in the community of aging professionals now recognize the benefit of annual screenings for changes in cognitive abilities for early detection of possible dementia and Alzheimer’s—ask your provider if they do such screenings and any other screenings you have concerns about. Stay on top of changes in your health and don’t delay bringing them up with your provider; bring any questions you may have to your provider and make sure you get answers for each question. Bring your list with you and something to write on and with (don’t trust you remember everything when you get home) or ask your provider to send you home with additional information materials or resources. If your provider is unwilling to answer your questions, they are probably not the right provider for you.

Plan too for future caregiving needs and needed adaptations to changes. If you need caregiving, who will provide it and how? Will it be a nurse or a friend or family member? Will you need to pay this person? How often will you need help? You can ask your provider what insight they might have into your future needs, but also plan to have these discussions with spouses/partners, family, and yourself.

In addition to these concerns, you may think about bringing someone with you to your medical appointments—especially if you find yourself getting overwhelmed during exams or need some assistance in understanding procedures or doctor recommendations. If you have a caregiver or think it would be beneficial to have someone in the exam room with you, bring this up with your provider. Ask them if you could have a trusted person or caregiver with you.

As long as you’re planning, you should also plan what you would like in your medical care and end-of-life care. Seriously consider creating an Advance Directive and POLST form (Practitioner Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment). You can learn more about these and fill the forms here NJ Advance Directive and POLST. Having an Advance Directive or POLST form often makes people uncomfortable because they believe the form is only for declining further medical care. This is not true. These forms allow individuals to express, in writing, when they are mentally and physically capable of making decisions, what they would like their medical care to be. Individuals can choose to have as many OR as few life-saving measures they would like to be taken in the event they are not conscious to tell doctors or loved ones their wishes. The POLST form also travels from doctor to doctor, allowing individuals to make their wishes known without having to fill out the form over and over again.

 

“After I’m Gone”

A former co-worker of mine, a planned giving attorney, used to use the phrase “If I get hit by an asteroid crossing the street tomorrow…” when talking about all the things we’d need to know if he died suddenly (he liked it as opposed to, “If I get hit by a bus,” because it seemed so much less likely!). In his line of work he was constantly discussing wills and estates with the organization’s supporters. This wasn’t as morbid as it may sound—the conservations were much less about death than a way for these supporters to tell my co-worker how they wanted to be remembered.

We don’t need to necessarily dwell on death with morbidity, but it’s healthy to recognize it will, inevitably, happen to us all. Whether or not we’re planning to give away money or large assets when we die, it’s not only wise, but necessary to plan what will happen with ourselves, our loved ones, and our things before and after we’re gone.

If you’re an adult, you should have a will. Regardless of how many assets you have or don’t have, whether you own a car or a house, a pet, or you have only the clothes on your back, it makes sense to dictate who will get what in a will. You can make this will as secret or as public as you’d like, give it all away to a favorite school or organization, or pass it along to family and friends, but you should make a will. Make sure you also have your will and wishes reviewed by an attorney to ensure your wishes can be carried out.

Even though most of us may be reluctant to discuss our own deaths, it’s worth remembering that our loved ones will have to process taking on additional household and/or financial responsibilities in addition to processing the emotional toll of our deaths. To make things easier for loved ones, it’s wise to write a list of passwords for bank accounts, utility accounts, etc., and to create other lists, such as where household objects are stored, how to maintain appliances or accounts, and other useful information your spouse/partner or loved ones might want to have access to.

Also consider having conversations with your loved ones about how you would like to have your death recognized. Let your loved ones know if you have religious/spiritual or personal practices that you would like incorporated into any kind of memorial service, song or story requests you may have, and any other details about your preferred type of service. If you face reluctance from loved ones in discussing matters of death, try to gently and compassionately remind them that these conversations are going to make things easier and are, ultimately, about love.

 

As we said in the first in our series, there is no one solution to deciding how you will cope with your home, health, or end-of-life decisions. Just as your life changes, so may the appropriate solution—having a plan, or even considering your current or future needs, is the first step to aging well.

 

Stay tuned for our next blog post, the third and last part in our “Planning to Age Well,” series: money and retirement.


Mason Crane-Bolton is Communications Manager for the New Jersey Foundation for Aging. His writing has appeared in EpiphanyUU WorldTo Wake/To Rise, and others.