Why I Wrote This Book: Sharona Hoffman, Aging With a Plan: How a Little Thought Today Can Vastly Improve Your Tomorrow

This book is a concise and comprehensive resource designed to help baby boomers plan for their own aging and for caring for elderly loved ones. The book grew out of a very difficult agingperiod in my life. During 18 months in 2013 and 2014 both my parents died, my mother-in-law died, and in October of 2013, my husband, Andy, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 55. As I went through these experiences, I learned a lot about the legal, social, financial, medical and other challenges of growing older, getting sick, and facing the end of life. As a Professor of Law and Bioethics, I already knew something about theories and doctrine related to many of these issues, but there is nothing like life experience to enliven your knowledge and imprint lessons on your mind.

In the midst of all of this, last July, I also had a big birthday and turned 50. I realized that as difficult as things were for our parents, they could be that much harder for Andy and me when we grew older because we didn’t have children; we didn’t have close relatives who would be able to be our unpaid caregivers. My husband’s diagnosis taught me that life is unpredictable and full of uncertainties. Nevertheless, I felt that I needed to start putting some safeguards in place and trying to create a plan for our later years.

The book, therefore, is first of all an effort on my part to work through my own anxieties about aging. But more importantly, it is meant to take my professional and personal experiences and put them to good use helping others.

There are a lot of books about aging, so I can’t claim to be the first to have written about the topic. But, I think this book is different. First, it is a one-stop shopping opportunity. Unlike many other books, it does not focus just on finances or legal problems or medical care, but rather, covers a large range of topics, all of which are critical in my experience. Therefore, readers can use it as an all-inclusive resource. Second, the book is not targeted primarily at people who are already seniors or already doing the day to day work of caregiving, though they can certainly benefit from it as well. It is designed first and foremost for baby boomers, people in middle age who should be thinking ahead and planning for taking care of elderly loved ones and for their own aging. As I have learned the hard way, when you are in the midst of crisis, it is very difficult to make good decisions if you know nothing about the problems you are facing.

I use an interdisciplinary approach that draws on my background in law and bioethics. I combine thorough scholarly research and analysis with a wealth of personal anecdotes to make the book engaging and accessible. I also provide a preparedness checklist at the end of each chapter that summarizes take-away messages and outlines practical next steps for readers.

Below, more specifically, are the topics I cover.

  • I explore some of the costs that individuals may incur after retirement and discuss the importance of retirement savings and of obtaining professional financial advice. I provide guidance as to how to obtain financial counseling and begin a savings program. I also analyze in detail two particular financial products: long-term care insurance and reverse mortgages.
  • I describe several types of retirement communities with special focus on continuing care retirement communities. I argue that seniors should not lightly dismiss the idea of living in a community setting because of the importance of maintaining social interaction and intellectual and civic engagement throughout life.
  • A major concern for independent seniors without close family members is whether anyone will be available to help coordinate their care, pay bills, and provide the support that others receive from their children and nearby relatives. I explore a variety of emerging options for professional help, namely geriatric care managers, daily money managers, elder law attorneys, professional organizers, and experts who can assist with adapting a home to accommodate disabilities or preparing it for sale.
  • I discuss and critique a variety of documents that are essential for purposes of legal preparedness. The relevant documents are: durable powers of attorney for health care, living wills, organ donation forms, advance directives for mental health treatment, durable powers of attorney for property and finances, wills, and trusts.
  • I dedicate a chapter to the fraught issue of driving by the elderly. I examine whether elderly drivers have reason to worry that they are a danger to themselves or others on the road, how state laws handle driver’s license renewal in old age, how families can tell whether elderly relatives are at risk of unsafe driving, and how to approach conversations with elderly loved ones regarding this sensitive subject. I also discuss transportation alternatives that are available in some communities and emerging automobile technologies that will enhance seniors’ ability to drive safely as they grow older.
  • I focus on the changing medical needs of people from middle age onwards and the importance of obtaining coordinated care, ideally from physicians with geriatric expertise. I also outline strategies for becoming an active, educated member of your own medical team and for building strong support networks in case of illness or disability.
  • I discuss the elderly’s long-term care needs and existing options for such care. To this end, I analyze the benefits and shortcomings of nursing homes, assisted living, home care, and adult day services. I also provide guidance to help you do your research and make appropriate choices concerning long term care.
  • I analyze end of life care and the degree to which you can maintain control over it. I discuss assisted suicide (available in a handful of states), the right to decline unwanted life-prolonging treatment, “do not resuscitate” orders, palliative care, and hospice programs. Thinking about the end of life might seem like a depressing thing to do, but engaging in soul-searching about our preferences, knowing what choices we’ll have, and discussing these matters with loved ones should facilitate end-of-life decision-making for ourselves and those in our care.

“Aging with a Plan: How a Little Thought Today Can Vastly Improve Your Tomorrow” is available on Amazon. I sincerely hope that others benefit from reading it as much as I did from writing it.

sharona