Recently Bill Hohs, co-founder of CareSpireVets, joined a focus group conducted at Willowbrook Place, an Anthem Memory Care community located in Littleton, Colorado. CareSpireVets is an organization run by Bill and his wife, Pam Peterson-Hohs, which provides Aid and Attendance pensions for wartime vets. They’ve been doing this for 12 years, now, yet Bill considers himself to be an educator first, providing vets with options based on a set of criteria. One is “life expectancy”. It goes without saying that this is an important topic for those with loved ones diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia.
One of the participants asked Bill why it is so hard to talk about life expectancy; especially with our parents. “Because nothing is ever going to happen to us,” was his rather wry reply.
Yet, in so many ways, Bill is right. Even though we may be in our 50’s or 60’s, when it comes to considering a parent’s life expectancy, we tend to become children again, choosing to believe that he or she will go on for many more years. Yet we know that’s not the case.
Alzheimer’s life expectancy may be shorter than we’d like to think.
While we can never know for certain, for individuals with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, the life expectancy is typically less than family members care to admit.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health have discovered that the average survival time for people diagnosed at age 65 is 8.3 years. The average life expectancy for people diagnosed at age 90 is 3.4 years.
So, while we may know this cognitively, emotionally we struggle to connect with that reality. And, due to that, there is a tendency to over-estimate things like the cost for in-home or residential memory care, as well as to under-estimate the planning involved for making end-of-life arrangements.
The group asked Bill if there was a way to face the reality of life expectancy without feeling that you are abandoning all hope for your loved one.
Listen to how you describe your mom or dad’s health. You are giving yourself the answer.
Bill makes an interesting suggestion, based on his work with CareSpireVets. “Listen to yourself,” he says. “I’m in the business of talking about life expectancy. If someone has very little time to live, a pension makes no sense. So I have to listen to what people say in that regard. And I find the longer they talk, the more they reveal to themselves what they really know, deep down, about their own parent’s life expectancy.”
If you can accept the inevitability, you can make the best of the time left.
Bill’s own experience with his mom, who passed away from Alzheimer’s, has helped him to help others who struggle with the reality of the disease. He understands the sense of duty to one’s parents to take care of them and the desire not to appear to “give up” on them. Yet, by facing the truth, it really can, as the Bible says “set you free.”
As Bill reflected on this he shared a parting thought. “Once you come to terms with the reality that he or she really could pass away any time, it actually becomes easier,” he said. “You’ve made peace with the truth. And that’s a comforting feeling.”