When thinking about the law and aging, it is important to appreciate that we are the first generation to deal with this issue.
A generation ago people did not regularly live to be 90 or 100 years-old, and because cognitive impairments are so closely correlated to advanced age, the societal challenges created as a result of the dementing illnesses were not nearly so significant in the past. Yes, some people became old and “senile” but those instances were relatively rare and taken care of within families or institutional care settings.
As a result, we were not educated and have no role models to help us deal with being the children of aging parents who experience these conditions.
As an attorney practicing in this arena, I find myself facing adult children practically every day who have no idea where to begin. They don’t know the difference between a guardianship and a power of attorney, between Medicaid and Medicare, or between assisted living facilities and nursing homes. What typically happens is an event that triggers the need to learn– the family gathers for Thanksgiving dinner and realizes just how bad Dad’s memory has become, or Mom has a fall and ends up in the hospital, then they find themselves sitting with a hospital discharge planner who tells them that Mom can’t go home. They come into the meeting with me with a “deer in the headlights” look.
Perhaps things will be different in the future. Common sense would suggest that we begin talking to our children about aging in kindergarten. But in this youth oriented society (topic for another day), that’s not likely to happen. In the meantime, our generation is learning on a need to know basis.