Amateur astronomer Stargazer Li, PhD, says, “We are literally made of our ancestors, their physicality and their experiences, their places and times, their hopes and fears… For us to be at home in our bodies and lives, to have a sense of connection and continuity that can foster respect, we must know our ancestry.”
This has never been truer than with today’s seniors, who are living longer than ever before.
William Fralin, president of Chronic Care Advocacy, observes, “We all have aging family members. Some of us are the ‘oldest generation’ in our family line. How do we preserve family? One way is through interactions with succeeding generations. Cell phone photographs of family gatherings are great for capturing moments in time, but how do you truly pass along ‘the family’?
“Involve your children in their aging family members’ lives — visit, encourage family history relating and documenting, have the younger members of the family begin a family history book, have them interview family members of all generations to gather family stories and anecdotes — just get involved.
“Despite time constraints and the re-structuring of the modern family, time spent learning about [elders'] stories can enrich everyone’s lives, from the youngest member to the most senior. Your older family members will be gone before you know it, so preserve what you can, going forward.”
One excellent way reverse mortgage professionals can learn more about specific issues facing older adults — which can impact family history — is via the ElderSource Institute’s online training programs, which cover a range of issues. These virtual workshops aren’t scheduled; you can access and complete classes online on your own time.
Some of the pertinent topics covered include caregiver training, disability sensitivity and inclusion, elder abuse awareness and prevention — and dementia care provisions, which can be especially relevant and poignant if someone you know is experiencing early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease.
When History Becomes A Mystery
Preserving family history is particularly critical in the case of Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease (EOAD):
Fralin cites the case of women’s college basketball coach Pat Summitt, who entered the national spotlight with her EOAD diagnosis in 2011, when she was just 59. She died two weeks after her 64th birthday in 2016, a sad conclusion to a glorious life and career.
While early-onset Alzheimer’s accounts for only about five percent of the more than five million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, the consequences of EOAD are devastating on many levels. Those afflicted can be in mid-life and mid-career, still raising a family. The additional caregiving burden and loss of income can be fraught with stress for the spouse and other family members, including the affected person’s elderly parents, who may need assistance themselves.
Due to the progressive nature of the disease, someone diagnosed with EOAD needs to plan for the future now. Aside from the transition of responsibilities at work and at home, legal and financial planning is crucial. The diagnosed individual must determine who will be responsible for financial and medical decisions as their own cognition declines. It’s also essential to share those potent memories and moments with loved ones while there’s still time.
The information we discussed with respect to elder orphans can be useful for those with EOAD: a community of support in a difficult time. In addition, the National Institute on Aging provides a comprehensive resource list for those living with and/or caring for someone with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Memory and history make us who we are. Understanding what your reverse mortgage families may face — even if it’s the children of your clients, rather than the seniors themselves, who are confronting a major health crisis — increases your value as a trusted elder resource.