Thursday, August 22, 2019
I suspect every elder law attorney has experienced the Friday Syndrome, where an individual calls the office to seek an emergency appointment because he or she has flown in to visit parents and has discovered new chaos. Perhaps it is a parent who is much more ill than anyone was letting on during phone calls. Perhaps it is discovering a huge pile of unpaid bills with no explanation for why they are overdue. Perhaps it is because the parents have said -- finally -- we need to make a decision and we want to make it today.
There are many variations on the Friday Syndrome, and frequently they involve a common human trait, procrastination, or as my fifth grade teacher called it, "The Scarlett O'Hara Syndrome." I didn't understand what she meant at the time, having not yet seen Gone with the Wind with Scarlett's classic last line, "After all, tomorrow is another day." But I did eventually figure out that my teacher was referring, in less than favorable terms, to my personal approach to homework assignments!
A friend who I often run into during early morning swims, attorney and financial planning advisor Alvin Blitz, shared with me a variation on the theme with his recent column on "Taking Control of Your Destiny." He recounts lessons from his 20 years of travel on behalf of Masonic Villages, as he works with individuals and couples who are thinking about a move to a continuing care retirement community (CCRC). He starts with the premise that while change is a difficult word to swallow, "resisting change usually results in a bad outcome." He describes two scenarios involving couples facing decisions about whether to stay in their own homes.
In the successful scenario, the couple began their reckoning with age while still in their early 70s, making a preliminary decision to downsize and live in a townhouse in a 55 plus retirement community, spending many years enjoying their neighbors and participating in activities geared to their stage in life. "As time went on, the husband was diagnosed with dementia, which required them to make another hard decision," reports Alvin. Eventually they decided that they needed a place where the husband's mental status could be accommodated and the wife would be able to stay active and supported in her new roles with her husband. In the CCRC, they were able to enjoy a "balance of independence and quality of life together while their health problems are addressed, without needing to rely on other individuals to make life decisions for them."
In the less successful scenario, the couple tried to stick in out in their 1950's castle. "Finally, the inevitable happened. the husband had a debilitating stroke. Family members from afar rallied to help, but time took its toll. The wife had medical problems and landed in the hospital. Decisions on care and where to live became limited and were thrust upon them by their circumstances."
Alvin reminds us that making affirmative decisions about housing and care as you age can lead to a much "softer landing" than an alternative that depends on happenstance. He also explains, helpfully, what it might mean to live in a CCRC where there is a clear mission, such as the fraternal mission at Masonic Villages where members of the Masonic organizations (including Eastern Star) can receive continuing compassionate care, even if the individual no longer has assets to pay for care.
For more, read Alvin Blitz' August 2019 article, Taking Control of Your Destiny, from his newsletter, appropriately called "The Blitz."