No matter your age, it's never too early to make plans for your life. Later Life planning is a vital, but often overlooked, responsibility. Its purpose is to strategically plan a pathway so you can enjoy the future you want, rather than leave it to chance. Ensuring your wishes are known and understood by your support team will provide you with peace of mind so you can enjoy worry-free later years.
Allison O'Shea from Openly Aging knows that the aging arena is largely overwhelming and quite confusing so she's here to share her tips and tricks on how to navigate aging and what to be prepared for, financially, socially, and spiritually.
Opening Aging website
Golden Girls Living podcast episode
Yes, you CAN get Rid of That podcast episode
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[00:01] Debra Jones: Have you ever been told to act your age? From the minute we're born, we're judged according to how old we are, and this can lead us to being treated unfairly because of our age. This is ageism. It's the most widespread form of discrimination that will impact us all, especially as we get older. Western society currently supports this discrimination, and this is why I created the podcast. We are dispelling the notion that aging is undesirable and setting new, positive attitudes. I want to thank you for listening, because it means that you are a part of this change for the better. We recognize that older adults have plenty to contribute to society. We know that we can all benefit from the wealth of experience that older adults have. It's clear that age is not the problem. Ageism is. One of the biggest problems is that the ageism we witness around us affects how we see ourselves as we get older. We start to believe what we read, see, and hear and fit ourselves in the stereotype box. How sad is that? Sometimes it's obvious, sometimes it's hidden. But ageism is everywhere, even though it is illegal. Studies show that older people are not often consulted about their own care preferences. The decisions are made for them by others. Today, I'm speaking with Allison O'Shea, who has been on the front lines working with seniors and their families in the role of executive director for senior living companies. She knows that the aging arena is largely overwhelming and quite confusing, so she's here to share her tips and tricks on how to navigate aging and what to be prepared for financially, socially, and spiritually. Welcome to Own the Gray, a podcast to dispel the notion that aging is undesirable and setting new, positive attitudes. I'm Debra Jones, and I believe you can be vibrant and healthy throughout the best years of your life. Allison shares my passion for reframing aging, and she, too, is a change agent in how we talk about aging. Welcome to own the gray, Allison.
[02:42] Allison O'Shea: Thank you so much. I'm very happy to be here.
[02:45] Debra Jones: In your line of work, I'm sure you've seen the confusion on the faces of seniors and their family members, and in some cultures, it's very simple - honor, respect, and care for your elders. How did caring for elders in the west become so complicated, and what are the main stumbling blocks?
[03:06] Allison O'Shea: Unfortunately, I think we in our society have if we don't talk about it, it won't happen kind of mentality that may work in other areas of life, but we are all aging. We all age differently, but we are all aging. And the majority of people over the age of 85 need some sort of support in their daily life. So my goal with openly aging is to tell people the importance of talking about aging as early as when they're thinking about retirement and starting to put a plan in place, because without that plan, we end up being at the mercy of those around us to make decisions for us. And that can really result in encouraging ageism because we're allowing ourselves to get into crisis and somebody else has to come in and save us. And isn't that kind of the definition of how ageism occurs?
[04:07] Debra Jones: Yeah. Disempowering ourself by not empowering ourselves, right?
[04:12] Allison O'Shea: Yes, you can have control, and of course, we don't know how our aging will go, but there are things you can put in place to have the most control of when things happen as we age.
[04:25] Debra Jones: Awesome. So in your line of work, and I assume that's why you started openly aging, because of everything that you saw in working in these senior living homes, what is the most shocking thing that you've noticed that is common to families that have aging parents or things that they're dealing with? What is common that you've seen?
[04:51] Allison O'Shea: The most common thing I've seen that really made me take this step was most of the families I saw were coming to me in crisis, in complete and utter overwhelmed crisis. Mom was at home. Maybe she wasn't really doing that well, but we kind of pretended it was okay or tried to support the best we could. But then all of a sudden something happened. And now we have to make some very big life decisions for our loved one in a very emotionally heightened mindset. And we also don't know the options until you start looking at it. But the bottom line is making a big life decision when you're emotionally charged and feelings of crisis, feelings of guilt is not the best time to make those big decisions. So that's truly where I saw we're really missing a piece of this puzzle, which is talking about it sooner.
[05:50] Debra Jones: Yeah. So that is what we're going to be doing today, isn't it? We're going to be talking about it. So even if you're not dealing with an aging parent, this is not necessarily just for the person that is, is it?
[06:03] Allison O'Shea: My ultimate goal is to actually reach those that are just now starting to think about retirement and really talk to them. For sure.
[06:11] Debra Jones: Yeah. So then you have five tips that you wanted to share with us. The questions that we need to ask ourselves to at least start to be prepared for keeping as much control as possible or at least putting into place a plan. Isn't it something that you can start with that maybe you can share? We'll get into the details of that. So what do you think are those five questions then?
[06:40] Allison O'Shea: Sure. The first one is, it is never too early to identify your aging support system. Most of the time this is going to be adult children. But in the world that we live in, where a lot of people don't live, maybe where they grew up anymore, you have to think about that. Where are your adult children? Where are they living if they're not local in ten years from when you retired, do you plan on moving toward one of your adult children or support system? If not, that's okay. But is your house accessible? So there's all those things you have to think about way before you are entering into that time of your life. If you don't have a support system that you can identify, there is a whole category in the senior industry called geriatric care managers. Forming a relationship with somebody or even just starting to understand what kind of role that person could have in your life would be very important. So really just honing in on when I am starting to need some support, who do I go to?
[07:58] Debra Jones: That's your first question. And it could also be like grandchildren, for instance. It doesn't have to be your children necessarily, right?
[08:06] Allison O'Shea: The other person has to know that. This goes back to another question we'll go into in a minute, but communicating’ “Will you be my support system?” Is also very important.
[08:16] Debra Jones: Yeah, it is. That awkward conversation though, isn't it? Nobody really wants to talk about death, for instance, and this is really close to that. So it falls into that same category. But again, as you said, if we don't talk about it, then we end up in crisis where we don't have as many options, I would imagine. If we're in crisis, is that the main thing that happens for us?
[08:42] Allison O'Shea: Absolutely. Will you lose all control of the choices that are being made sitting down with your identified support system and saying, hey, if I ever start having cognition issues, I live in this area, I have this money. I would really like to either stay home as long as possible or I'm fine with this community. But I've researched communities so you're able to put some sort of blueprint in place to help that support system. At least have an idea of your agent goals and they can help facilitate those agent goals when you are getting to a place where that's becoming challenging for you yeah.
[09:23] Debra Jones: And that kind of falls in line with what your next question would be is what is my financial situation? So, can you talk us through that?
[09:32] Allison O'Shea: And I always tell people there's no right answer for this. I think that's another reason a lot of people don't talk about aging is there is all that talk out there. A lot of aging resources are expensive. And so I think sometimes if we're concerned about that, we don't talk about it. But the reason this is important to find out and figure out is if you do have money and it's not as much of a concern, there are things, though, that you need to do way ahead of time. A continuing care retirement community, for example, is one of those communities that you buy into, and then it has all three levels of care. A lot of them have eight to ten year wait lists. So if that is a goal of yours, eventually you need to start putting get on that waitlist. The same is for the opposite. If money is a concern, there are so many free resources out there. Caregivers of America is just one that mentioned here, volunteers of America. But in your local communities, there's always all over the world, there will always be resources that are based on income or very maybe free. Well, those wait lists are also ten years. So really putting those insurance plans in place, the worst thing that happens is you get a phone call that your name is at the top of the list and you just have to decline. Your name doesn't go down lower, but at least you've put some insurance plans in place for that future aging.
[11:08] Debra Jones: Wow. So just let me clarify what you said. So if you get the phone call saying that we've got a place for you and you're not ready, you can stay on the waitlist for the next available space and just keep at the top of the list until you need it.
[11:25] Allison O'Shea: You always stay at the top of the list. Or the best way I had someone describe it, it's like an on and off button. If you call them and say, okay, I'm ready, they'll turn you on. But you always stay where you are. You can call them and say, I'm not ready, and you get turned off. And then you may not get the phone calls, depending on what system they have, but you never lose that spot in line. So it's kind of like a turn on turn off, which you have to get in early to get to that top spot.
[11:56] Debra Jones: Got you. So hang on, I'm just going to make a phone call, Allison, and then come back to our conversation. So, listeners, as soon as you've listened to this podcast, that's what you do? That's what I'm going to be doing for sure. That's really good to know. And it gives you peace of mind, too, doesn't it?
[12:14] Allison O'Shea: Absolutely.
[12:15] Debra Jones: Awesome. So, Allison, what's the next question to ask?
[12:19] Allison O'Shea: So number three is, do you have a general idea of the options that are out there? And I have casually mentioned two or three just during this conversation, which shows that there are so many resources out there. This industry, this aging industry is really one that is blowing up. I mean, people are coming into it with new ideas, so really having an understanding. I have met so many families, so many aging persons that don't know what's covered by insurance or what's not many people come into looking for senior living, for example, thinking it's covered by health insurance, and that is far from the truth. What is home health versus home care? Those are two very separate things. Home health is therapies physical, occupational, speech with nursing support, you need a doctor's order. It's totally covered by insurance, you might have a copay. Every insurance policy is different, whereas home care is where a certified individual will come into your home and provide support, dressing, bathing, whatever. You may need companionship, and that is not covered by health insurance. And so it's out of pocket. And the rates for that can vary depending on which way you go. So just having a general idea of what is a continuing care retirement community, why would you choose that versus maybe a rental option for long term care, senior care? So it's just having a basic idea of what options are there as we age and kind of having a baseline understanding.
[14:07] Debra Jones: So I guess then the options are personal preference more than anything.
[14:13] Allison O'Shea: When I talk about this subject a lot, I always reference somebody's personality. Are you extroverted? Are you introverted? That goes a long way. Some people thrive in senior living 55 and older. There's no maintenance. You can just enjoy all the happy hours, all the symphony trips. But for others, community living would be their worst nightmare. And so staying home is going to be their best option. Well, there needs to be plans for that. I've also seen the opposite, where somebody is at home because they're refusing. They just want to stay in their house forever, but they're really not thriving because they're missing a whole piece, the social engagement piece of life. And without that, we deteriorate faster. And so you also have to be aware of the idea everyone wants to stay home. If I hear that, I mean, I hear that all the time. I'm going to stay home, I'm going to stay home. Okay. But I do feel like some people aren't allowing themselves to see the options of moving into a community like setting where you can really have just a support system. You can pick and choose when you want to socialize, but you're going to be able to get that social engagement piece. Everyone has those needs to feel connected.
[15:36] Debra Jones: So something came up as you were talking and well, there are two things. One of them is because we haven't been having these conversations until now, we may assume that we know what is best for us or really what is the option. I mean, that is our topic is what are the options? And I would think that staying home because that's what we've done for all our life is probably the only one that comes to mind until you start looking to see the different things. So one of my thoughts came up was, is there a way to investigate and get a feel for what it might feel like to live in a community?
[16:27] Allison O'Shea: Absolutely. So I have a few answers to that. Question number one, we have to remember that especially this generation, that not so much the baby boomer generation, but the one right before them. They had terrible experiences of loved ones in senior care. All they had was kind of one level of care, what we call now skilled nursing. There's a lot of over medication. The culture of senior living changed in the that's where assisted living, the idea of assisted living, being in a home like environment came about and it just blew up. You're going to have good communities. You're going to have communities that aren't good. So that's why researching as I'll get into now but that's really where a lot of these problems have started is past experiences. So now that we do have all these options to get more information or to get a feel, I have two suggestions. The first one is you need to get on. Most local communities have some sort of resource page where senior living communities can post events that they're doing. For example, locally I am partnering with a newer senior living community and we are putting a panel together of different experts in the field and it's a great way for people that are just looking for information. It's a free event can come and really learn about that community, but also learn about additional resources, senior communities and senior industry. Other companies are doing these events all the time. So in your local community, I always recommend reaching out to the local community near you, getting on their mailing list. I know that's very daunting for people sometimes because you feel like you're going to get inundated, but they just want to be able to invite you to events. And it's a great way for you as a consumer to get into these communities in a very low pressure, no sales way and also learn a little bit. Also, most communities do have the option of staying for a weekend where you can experience in a guest suite, experience the community. This is obviously it's a little more intrusive and you really kind of have to put yourself out there as the guest of the community, you're going to get a lot of attention. But for some people that is the best way for them to find out if this is the right level of care. But really going to those seminars and going to anything local that is giving information about options is really important, I feel.
[19:06] Debra Jones: Yeah. I wonder if the local libraries have resources that way. Yes. So then what's the fourth question to ask?
[19:15] Allison O'Shea: The fourth question is have you communicated to your support system? Once again, have we told them that they are our support system, number one, and have they agreed? And number two, have you said, here's my financial situation, here is what I've researched and here's what I know, here's the wait list I've put down, here's the things I'm doing, and here are my long term goals. And it is basically handing your support system an aging plan, that when the time comes and they have to come in and activate that aging plan, you have really given them some great pointers, because as you mentioned before, when other people come in and make decisions for you, sometimes they're going to make those decisions based on them. Right. What would I like? Well, if you have totally two different personalities, that's where that clash can really come in. And so really giving I always tell people it's a gift to your support system. Your support system will look at this as a gift. Thank you so much. I appreciate knowing, even though sometimes for adult children to hear from adult parents, here's where I want to live when I have dementia. Here's what I want to do. And it might be a little scary at first, but when the time comes, those small conversations, that plan that you have given them is going to be such a gift, and it will allow them to honor you and provide as much dignity as possible during the aging crisis. Because they have an aging process, because they have an idea of your goals.
[21:00] Debra Jones: Yeah, I'm seeing it as even a conversation starter. So these are the things that I've discovered. These are the things that I want. What do you think about that? Do you have any other ideas that maybe might help guide this process so that we're both comfortable, for instance?
[21:20] Allison O'Shea: Right? Yeah, that's pretty and that is question five.
[21:21] Debra Jones:Okay, what is question five?
[21:26] Allison O'Shea: Are you listening to your support system? I have seen so when I started this whole campaign this year of really talking about aging and changing how we talk about it, a lot of people assumed my ultimate goal was to defend older Americans because they're not heard, they're not listened to. And of course, my whole career has been serving our seniors and making sure that they have dignity and respect. But I have also, through my experience, seen way too many times when a senior, an aging adult, is really not accepting of their current situation and is fighting their support system in every way possible. If your adult daughter comes to you and you've identified her as your support system and she is saying to you, mom, I can't come here three times a day to make sure you took your medicine, taking you to doctors appointments four times a week is just really starting to get challenging. Maybe as we know that people are having children later, people are working longer. So most of the times we're seeing in the new generations coming, their adult children are really strapped for time and energy, and they have other responsibilities. And so we need to listen to our support system. And during that conversation, our support system also needs to say, here are my boundaries. Here's what I can do. If it gets to this point, that's when I need some additional resources. And then it kind of leads into a new conversation, what additional resources are out there? I've seen so many older adults enter into senior living, angry, resentful, mad, just ticked off and then that puts their adult child or their support system in a ton of guilt. It affects the relationship and it affects your last years of your life in aging. Having control as best we can. Making these decisions for ourselves will allow for us to use this last wonderful chapter of our lives to enjoy it, to have as least amount of stress as possible, and to just live in the moment of gratitude for the life that you have lived and be able to express that to others. So seeing so many angry aging adults when it doesn't have to be that way, we're all going to age. You can't stop it. I think that's another big part of this piece is we have to listen to our support system and sometimes that gets forgotten.
[24:13] Debra Jones: That's a really good point. And I can picture those seniors that you were saying they're angry, they're bitter, they don't want to be there. What kind of life is that going to feel like when they feel that maybe they've been dumped there? Because that's really not how I would want to spend out my days. And I would think that on the other side of the coin, let's say somebody did prepare themselves. They did prepare their family. They did put a lot of consideration into the things that they want. And here they are living in the place that they wanted to live in, that they're around the people that they want to be around. What do you see is the main difference between the person that prepared and the person that didn't?
[25:07] Allison O'Shea: Fulfillment. I mean, like I said, a life of gratitude, enjoyment, they have a sense of humor about their aging and how it is and living in a community, they can just find joy in their current situation which nobody wants to be in that situation. I don't know because my husband and I are very social so we always say we're going to be the first ones of all our friends in that 55 and older just having a good old time. But I've also seen how it can be beneficial. But yeah, you just see a lightness to somebody who can enjoy their children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and just has good relationships. And I should also mention that during the when you're putting that aging plan in place and all of a sudden being aware that part of your support system listening to your support system is listening, when the plans have changed, sometimes we can put all the plans we want in place and our support system said yes. I got it, I got it, I got it. Well then all of a sudden something maybe changed in their life or maybe they realized that they took on too much. So being able to also hear them say, I tried as I could to follow this exact plan, but we need to make some changes. And being accountable for those changes, you can have control of those changes because you've allowed your support system to feel comfortable enough to come to you and say, all right, we got to do a little tweaking here, and let's figure it out. And then once again, the result is just fulfillment, control and joy.
[26:52] Debra Jones: At the beginning of our conversation, you talked about how the aging arena is exploding or expanding. What kinds of things? You refer to some new things that are coming up. What are these new things?
[27:09] Allison O'Shea: Sure. So one of the biggest things I always tell people because they don't realize there's this whole category within the industry of senior movers. They specifically help seniors downsize, whatever that may look like, into a community, into a smaller home. But they do it in such a way that it doesn't feel overwhelming. I mean, it's going to feel overwhelming no matter what, but it takes a lot of the overwhelmedness out of it. They are your soup to nuts. They pack you, but they also unpack. You put up all your pictures because you've decided where they're going to be. You've had your floor plan, they create a floor plan. So it's really catered towards seniors. Another option that's fairly new but kind of exploding is there's a senior certification that you can get if you're a real estate agent. And it's specifically also catered to teach real estate agents that selling a home of an aging adult is a very different emotional process for them than maybe their 30 some year olds that are ready to move and shake and downsizing is a lot different. And so those are two. Mental health in the senior world is also something that is really we need it quicker than we're getting it. But there are companies that are coming into local areas to specifically focus on mental health for the seniors. There's doctors that will come into your home. A lot of communities now have primary care physicians. That that's their whole thing. They come into your home. So you don't, you know, as you age, you have a lot of doctors appointments. So it does allow for a little more comfortableness and help with transportation and I could go on and on.
[29:03] Debra Jones: Well, it's really interesting because those first two that you mentioned so helping downsize and helping sell the house. I have podcasts that I've done interviewing people that are doing that. So I'll put a link to that in the show notes for our listeners. And the only one that I wasn't aware of is going back to doctor home visits because I know that's what doctors did when I was younger too. So it's like we're going full circle and we're actually getting the care that we really need. So it's really exciting to hear. I mean, the aging population is growing. There are statistics that say that we are probably the largest group out there and so it makes sense for companies to fill the need. And so that's what you're saying, and that's why I'm excited, is that there are some new ideas coming up, so that's really awesome. And for you with your business, you're helping people to navigate this. Do you want to share just a little bit about what you do to help people?
[30:10] Allison O'Shea: Sure. So, of course I help families that are in crisis. They come to me already in a crisis, and I help them navigate. I'm able to take the emotion out of it and put a plan in place. But I also work with a lot of couples or singles that are in early retirement and have heard my talks and really want to start thinking about that aging plan. And so that's an initial assessment. I do a lot on Zoom So All Over, because it's just really some simple questions that you can ask and just start putting answers to. I do a lot of blogging on different things you can start thinking about. I recently did one called Intentionally Decluttering why do we leave garages filled with stuff for our adult children to deal with when we're gone? They don't want it. So really trying to get the education out there. But I'd love to personally connect with families, aging adults, and just really talk through the aging process and what current struggles they're having and how we can help navigate and put a plan in place.
[31:17] Debra Jones: That's beautiful. I really love your positivity about this whole process because it is scary. It isn't necessarily something we want to focus on, but you've got such a practical way of looking at it to just kind of dispel the fears and to just get a plan in place so that you can have your happy life. That's what we're here to have is a happy life. One thing that you want us know?.
[31:43] Allison O'Shea: That we're all going to age. And that you can't run from it and you can't hide from it, but you can do things to have the most control of it. And that will ultimately produce a feeling of success and a feeling of control, obviously, but also that gratitude and joy that you can have in your later years.
[32:12] Debra Jones: You can now find my podcast, my book, and soon my classes on Babyboomer.org, the ultimate, most trusted source for news, information, and community. They've curated all the resources on the things that interest you. Check it out today at BabyBoomer.org.