The twilight years of the Greatest Generation gave attorney Miles Hurley the inspiration to found Hurley Elder Care Law. After receiving his law degree in 1992, Hurley moved in with his mother’s elderly parents in his hometown of Knoxville, Tenn. “I became their de facto night-time caregiver,” he recalls. One night, while Hurley was working at a distant courthouse, his grandfather fell in the basement and gashed his head open, which led to weeks of hospitalization followed by admission into a nursing home.
Hurley says that the family’s difficulties were only just getting started. “When he got into the nursing home, he barely knew who I was.” Hurley’s grandfather had served in World War II as a colonel in U.S. Army’s Chemical Warfare Service. “He thought I was one of the members of his unit, and they were fighting the Japanese. And I was one of the fortunate ones, because he thought many of the people at the nursing home were the Japanese. Sometimes he had to be restrained, and I remember once finding him restrained to a chair, in his undershirt, in a place that reeked of urine. I thought, ‘There has to be a better way.’”
Hurley’s experience working with in-home care aides, nursing homes, hospitals and government agencies inspired him to found a law firm dedicated to seeking legal solutions for age-related challenges. The realities of aging and retirement are looming large for the greying baby boom generation, but all adults need to prepare legally and financially for the inevitable and learn about the options available to them.
The Importance of Preparation
Lisa Meeks, a certified professional geriatric care manager at Marietta’s SeniorCare Options, has encountered blasé attitudes toward aging among baby boomers. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people jokingly say, ‘When the time comes, just take me out back and put me down!’” says Meeks. “It’s like they don’t want to be old, they don’t want to be a sage in the culture, so they don’t do anything to prepare. They say, ‘I don’t want to be burden,’ but not having a plan is being a burden … You need to have someone able to make decisions when you can’t self-advocate.”
In his law practice, Hurley finds that even those who make contingencies for death don’t consider the other eventualities. “What I find we deal with most is planning for someone when they become incapacitated.” Hurley says. “How do you provide good, long-term care for someone losing their capacities—if they break a hip or are confined to wheelchair for another reason, or suffer from some kind of dementia? That’s where most people completely fail to plan.”
Hurley counsels families to get their documentation lined up immediately. “People should take a look at what they expect their senior years to be, and ask if they’re prepared for them,” he says. “Once they get a decision on that, everyone needs a baseline set of legal documents in place: at a minimum, a Georgia Advance Directive for health care, power of attorney and a will or a trust to deal with your assets when you’re gone.”
And don’t just forget about the paperwork once you’ve put it in order. “Even when you do have the documents in place, life is always changing, so they need to be reviewed every three to five years, or when a major life event occurs, like a birth, a death or a wedding,” Hurley points out.
Seniors must have realistic attitudes about their finances before planning when to retire. “In general, people are living longer and living healthier,” says Hurley. “If you want to retire when you hit 62, but have a 25-year life expectancy after that, you may not be able to cover it financially. If you retire at 70 and have a 15-year life expectancy, that’s easier to cover.”
Many baby boomers and current retirees saw their savings diminished during the recent economic slump. As Meeks points out, “If you had to dip into your 401(k)s, be sure to put some back.” She advises that seniors-to-be consult with financial planners and consider long term care insurance, since Medicare doesn’t cover many aspects of health care.
Seniors’ health needs dictate the level of assisted living they require, or whether they can stay at home. “They’ll know from their doctors if they can’t physically remain at home, and some will say that even if they want to stay, they’ll need 24-hour care,” says Tara Bailey, owner of the Marietta franchise of Right at Home, a national senior home care and staffing company. “Also, even people in a facility may need someone with them.”
A former retirement financial planner, Bailey explains that groups like Right at Home help keep seniors in place. “We offer in-home care and assistance that focuses on allowing seniors to stay safe and comfortable wherever they reside, from homes to rehab facilities,” says Bailey. “We do everything from general socialization to personal care, which can involve medication reminders, meals, transportation or just being there.”
Bailey also makes a point of drawing seniors’ attention to the resources they may not realize are available to them, beginning with the Internet. She’s a fan of websites like the AARP site and Caring.com. “They have great articles for planning, or for people who aren’t sure of the difference between an agency like ours versus hiring an individual caregiver,” she says.
Cobb County’s Senior Services operates eight Senior Centers, which include three neighborhood centers, four multipurpose centers and a Senior Wellness Center. Linda Parrott, acting director for Cobb Senior Services, says that the centers’ programs focus on an active approach to aging, and can range from employment counseling to outreach for members of the armed services overseas. “We’re moving toward not just living longer, but living better,” says Parrott. “Most of our focus at Senior Services is health and wellness. We want to improve the way we age. There’s no more sitting and knitting and playing Bingo: we’re getting up, having exercise, yoga and Zumba.”
Similarly, seniors who need to relocate to assisted living facilities have more options for activities than previous generations. “Senior living communities have more features than before,” says Steve Sodel, co-owner of Sterling Estates Senior Living in Marietta. Located on 10 acres, Sterling Estates features 90 suites in a 96,000-square-foot building, as well as two- and three-bedroom duplexes. “There’s more programming to help seniors be independent, from mental wellness to social wellness,” he says. “There are options to get people to stay active and independent, with staffing by people who know gerontology.”
In addition, Parrott explains that new “livable multi-use communities” like Austell’s Presbyterian Village are being built to accommodate the needs of seniors so they don’t have to change housing as often. “Some are exploring an ‘aging in place’ approach, in which seniors remain in their neighborhoods. You live in a place that’s able to support you, with younger people and middle-aged people, so it’s not a segregated community,” says Parrott.
In addition, seniors with impaired memory or the early symptoms of dementia may need support from a group like SeniorCare Options. “We primarily provide assessments, case coordination and patient advocacy,” explains Meeks. “A lot of times when families are overwhelmed or don’t know what to do, we can provide a guide.”
While no one can fend off the advances of time, good health habits can extend a person’s years of independence. “Everybody’s favorite answer is exercise,” says Meeks. “Studies show that good nutrition and exercise, such as 30 minutes of walking day, helps stave off the advances of memory impairment. They find that for dementia, anything that’s good for your heart is also good for your brain.”
In general, it’s never too early to start planning. Asked when you should start saving for retirement or otherwise making preparations, the experts typically recommend “Today, if not sooner.”