My grandmother passed away last week at the ripe old age of 96. She was a beautiful, elegant woman who will be missed by her children, her grandchildren and her 21 great grandchildren. She fell, broke her hip and within a week, passed away. Even though there should have been plenty of time to prepare, there was still some confusion toward the end about what she would want, both during her last few days and for her funeral services. This morning, I got the news that my grandfather, her 101 year old husband, fell and broke his hip. We are awaiting news about the possibility of surgery.
People are living longer and longer, but no one is going to live forever. There are simple things you can do to improve the quality of life for your aging parents and make things easier for the family when they die.
1. Fall Prevention — Each year, 250,000 people (3/4 of them women) over the age of 65 fall and break their hip. 20% of these people will die within a year. Older people are at much greater risk of falling and of sustaining severe injury from a fall.
— Make sure vision is checked at least once a year.
— Review meds often.
— Examine the home for trip hazards, especially throw rugs, inadequate lighting, and cluttered spaces.
2. Have a primary care doctor. As people age, their medical care becomes more and more complicated. Often there are several specialists, all prescribing different medications, with no one overseeing the big picture. It is critical to have a physician who understands the whole person, and who is focused on his or her quality of life.
3. Encourage daily exercise and mind games to keep both the body and the mind sharp. Staying active will not only ward off some of the physical and mental signs of aging, it will help to prevent depression, a problem that often increases with age.
4. End of Life Decisions – When my mom was dying, we had some time to discuss what she wanted, not only for the end of her life, but for her wake and funeral. We got very specific and while it was a hard discussion to initiate, once we started, we were able to iron out almost every detail. This was a relief for my mother, as she was able to exert some control in an otherwise completely out of control situation. Many people do not have this “luxury”, for lack of a better word. Death can come suddenly. NOW is the time to discuss things like Health Care Proxies, Living Wills, End of Life Decisions and preferences for after death arrangements. Do not be afraid to have the conversation with your parents. In the long run, it will save the whole family from arguments, guilt, confusion and possibly added expense.
5. Start Recording the Memories — Life is so busy right now, but one day, you may have the luxury of time — time to look at photos and letters and keepsakes from your parents or grandparents — if you can find them. It can be as simple as having a box where you store cards your kids receive from their grandparents or as planned as having your parents tell some stories while you record them for posterity. Someday, these things will be all you have left and their value will be immeasurable.
The life expectancy is increasing, and that is wonderful. But, it is so important to ensure we don’t just get time, but that we get quality time.