We all face difficult trials, but few of us will lose both parents, an in-law and cope with a spouse’s newly diagnosed chronic illness within just two years.
Despite an illustrious career studying bioethics and teaching health law at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, Sharona Hoffman said nothing fully prepared her for the challenges of navigating the financial, social and medical costs of aging and dying.
“In 2013 and 2014, both my parents died, my mother-in-law died and my husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at age 55,” Hoffman said in an interview with Life Matters Media. “I was learning a whole lot about the challenges of getting sick and growing older and facing the end of life. I already knew about a lot of these issues, but there is nothing like personal experience to really enliven your knowledge and drive these lessons home.”
She incorporated her experiences and advice into her new book, Aging with a Plan: How a Little Thought Today Can Vastly Improve Your Tomorrow, hoping it will help others avoid unnecessary stress and confusion.
Released in May, her book offers a concise, yet comprehensive resource for middle-aged readers beginning to plan for their future or care for relatives. Hoffman views it as an invitation to open discussion about death and disease.
Roughly 200 pages, her work includes chapters and simple checklists focusing on finances (estate planning, long-term care), relationships (home management, when to stop driving, community living) and medicine (control at end of life, advance care planning, hospice).
Self-help books catering to baby boomers and their caregivers will likely become staples of bookstores as the population ages. America’s 65 and older population is projected to expand to 72 million by 2030, roughly 20 percent of the total population. Although many seniors are expected to live longer than their parents did, more than half will also require care for two or more chronic conditions.
“This will benefit everyone, but the target is baby boomers who should already be planning for their own aging process,” Hoffman added. “Being an academic enabled me to do a lot of research and use academic resources. It also enabled me to delve into the legal and ethical issues people may not know about.”
Most importantly, Hoffman encourages readers to complete important legal documents while they are mentally competent, especially because 40 percent of baby boomers do not have a living will. Nearly three quarters of all Americans have not made their end of life care wishes known.
“You need to tell people what your preferences are if you can’t make medical or financial decisions for yourself,” she said. “You have to have conversations. Do you prefer quality of life or length of life? My own experiences were a catalyst for the book.”