A recent article in Harvard Business Review discussed the need for organizations to rethink their messaging to older populations. Older adults are a diverse group that varies in terms of health, wealth, family and social connections. Yet, advertising and public health messages tend to show mostly stereotypically frail, lonely, incompetent elderly people. In my practice, I also see this view within families and among healthcare workers as seniors may be treated as unable to make appropriate decisions. As an older person, I don’t like this and I try not to do it myself but it can be hard not to fall into stereotypes.

I write regularly about being a Pro-Choice Senior who takes control over their own healthcare, financial, legal and other decisions. However, I also find myself focusing on the negative consequences – what happens if you’re not a pro-choice senior – instead of the benefits of being proactive. I worry this can come across as ageist. The Harvard article points out that older adults prefer positive messaging and I agree since I’m one too. We’re living longer, healthier lives and there are more options than ever before to help us be active and live independently. But we need to take action and not leave it to chance.

Wouldn’t it be great to know that if you became ill, someone you selected could step in and pay your bills, check on your house, make healthcare decisions if you were unable, and offer other assistance? You can’t plan for every contingency. However, by signing appropriate legal documents (healthcare proxy, power of attorney, living will, trust, will, etc.) and naming trustworthy individuals to manage your affairs if you cannot, you can still be in control of what happens to your person and your money. Of course, legal documents are not enough.

What if you need help living on your own? Before you assume that family or friends will take care of whatever you need, you must talk to them. Who can help you and to what extent? What financial resources can you draw on and what may be available from the government or non-profits? Determine your options before you need them and communicate with your loved ones so they know your wishes.

If you are a family member of an older adult, I encourage you to talk to your loved one in terms of the positives of planning for the future. That’s much better than trying to give them orders. You should want them to keep control over their lives for as long as possible and taking proactive steps allows them to do that. Also, consider setting an example. If your loved one refuses to make plans, talk about the plans you’ve made and why. It’s never too early.

If you want to be a Pro-Choice Senior, take the first step and contact me for a consultation.