On the island of Sardinia off the coast of Italy, there are more healthy centenarians per capita living in that rugged, mountainous region than in any other part of the world. Dan Buettner, from the National Geographic, studied the Sardinians along with other thriving elders around the globe in his book The Blue Zones. It might not surprise you that the secrets to longevity for the Sardinians include eating local foods and less meat, enjoying red wine in moderation, strengthening the bonds of family and friends, laughing often—and walking long distances (while herding goats in rough terrain).

Here in the U.S., “rough terrain” takes on a different meaning, and there are often complex social and financial hurdles to overcome in order to age gracefully. As noted in the article Living Through the Silver Tsunami, published in the last issue of Benicia Magazine, the U.S. Census reports that some 10,000 people are turning 65 each day for the next 19 years—creating what’s being dubbed The Silver Tsunami. As a result, many of us are finding ourselves in the position of caring for a loved one, and it’s taking a toll.

Judi Morales moved back to Vallejo three years ago to care for her father who had Alzheimer’s disease, and her mother, with growing symptoms of Parkinson’s. She didn’t realize how quickly they had declined. “The best thing I did was to get real,” said Morales. Her parents had become frail, and reluctant to bathe or clean house, and their diets were packed with sweets and processed foods. “Caring for my parents was like caring for teenagers,” said Morales.

Elder abuse was not something Morales anticipated, and she found herself spending nearly a year battling fraudulent companies. “To my horror, I found multiple monthly charges, like accidental death insurance policies… credit card insurance, HVAC service and identity theft services,” she recalls. Many set up unneeded contracts with automatic withdrawals. “All these bogus charges added up to hundreds of dollars a month taken from their fixed income.” The Morales family is not alone. According to a recent press release from Bank of the West, financial abuse is now the third-most commonly substantiated type of elder abuse in the country.

One way to mitigate the threats of elder abuse is through estate planning. Major components of a good plan include an original will, a trust, powers of attorney, beneficiary designations and other important considerations that protect seniors or their loved ones from potential fraud and hours of grief. The most critical things to have in place, says Steve Gizzi, of the law firm Gizzi & Reep, LLP in Benicia, are powers of attorney and custodianship for young children.  “If something happens to you, do you want the people who run the DMV to decide what happens to your kids?”

There are general and limited powers of attorney, but in broad stroke a Durable Financial Power of Attorney appoints someone to manage your financial affairs should you become unable to do so for yourself. A Power of Attorney for Health Care designates the authority to make health care decisions on your behalf, including terminating care and life support. This is also referred to as a “living will” because it includes a written statement of your health care and medical wishes.

According to a report by Genworth, the State’s median cost for senior care in California ranges from $20,000 for hourly in-home care to $98,000 or more each year for nursing home care. Many are considering Long-term Care Insurance that can range in cost from $2,080 to $4,824 per year for couples who are both 55. Professionals recommend that you do the research, and consider bringing your financial team when beginning your Estate Planning.

In the world’s Blue Zones people not only live the longest, but thrive the longest. Inclusion and respect for elders grow stronger with time in these zones (identified by Buettner as Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica and Loma Linda, California.) The most beautiful wisdom that centenarians share across these regions is the importance of waking up each day with a sense of belonging and purpose. In Okinawa, this is summed up with the word: “ikigai.” Perhaps ikigai is the silver lining for the Silver Tsunami.

Related Links

The American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance

AARP article about estate planning

Gizzi & Reep LLP (Specializing in Elder Law)

The Blue Zones