We never had "the talk" —that discussion we should all have with our parents about where they want to live when they get older—and what arrangements (a retirement home, nursing home or other) should be made if they become frail or incapacitated.
My dad was an active, independent guy. And when he and mom decided to move from Ottawa to the Toronto area and live with my brother and sister-in-law, there were the usual discussions about new accommodations, financing, wills, medical power of attorney and the like. But a week after moving into the house, my father unexpectedly passed away from congestive heart failure.
My mom was devastated, living in new surroundings with family who now were thrust fully into caring for her, since she had broken her hip months before.
One recent Ipsos-Reid poll shows that only 36 per cent of those people with parents or in-laws have discussed plans for retirement or long-term care. But a deliberate, rational, caring discussion of dreams, aspirations and practical decisions is far preferable to one held under rushed, inevitable circumstances.
The Ipsos-Reid study, "Parent Care: The Latest, Greatest Challenge for Baby Boomers," reveals some statistics about Canada's aging demographic:
The demographic impact that we have heard about for so long is washing up on the shores of our society right now. Today in Canada, more people are over the age of 55 than under the age of 15. Two and a half million Canadians are currently between the ages of 60 and 69 and 2.7 million Canadians are over 70; together these groups make up approximately 5 million adults, or 22 per cent of the adult Canadian population. And if that is not enough, boomers who are now between 37 and 55 years old make up 47 per cent of the workforce. In 10 years, half of them will be over 55, and most will be planning for retirement.
As a society, we're going to have some serious decisions to make on retirement, long-term care, health-care funding and priorities. Pundits will talk about the responsibilities of governments and stakeholders, they will point fingers at pots of money, or ways to get money, and it will make constitutional wrangling look like a picnic by comparison. So, as Canadians, we intuitively know that this is a big issue and that we're all going to have to deal with it as a society in the next 15 years.
Let me make one sensible suggestion before we let others engage in debate about who does what: take responsibility for your future and those around you, and have the talk about retirement with your parents.
Now I can't recall what I would have said to my dad, or he to me, to engage in such a discussion 20 years ago. My father and I never talked about his finances; dads give advice on how to fix the lawnmower or what car to drive, but when you're growing up there are just some areas where you don't go.
But whatever the beginning point - a birthday, an anniversary or a weekend at the cottage - pick a date and have the talk. Talk to your parents about retirement and care.
Many people have prejudices against retirement homes but there are many options available to seniors today. There are home care services that can help extend a senior's stay in his or her own home. However, families also need to recognize limits to this and investigate how retirement communities and retirement homes have many benefits including:
Make those in your family comfortable talking about their roles and responsibilities in the future. Because I'll tell you, it's easier to do it at the cottage than in the intensive care unit, when your thoughts are otherwise occupied.
Article written by John Wright