Mitchel Nickols: Making decisions as we age |
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Mitchel Nickols: Making decisions as we age

Mitchel Nickols

My childhood pastor in Aliquippa, the late Rev. Asa W. Roberts Sr., used to often say at funerals, “The only way not to get old is to die young.” Both he and his father lived into their 90s. The same is true for my mother-in-law, Magnolia Combs of Brackenridge, who recently passed one day shy of turning 98. She was at a stage in life where most of her important decisions were being made for her.

The Population Reference Bureau notes that there were 52 million Americans 65 and older living in the United States in 2018 and projects that will nearly double by 2060. In Pennsylvania, the state’s senior citizen population grew 16.3% between 2010 and 2017. Life expectancy in the United States is 78.6 years.

A 2018 U.S. Census report suggests that “Older people are projected to outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history.”

Whether seniors outlive their children or not, critical decisions must be made about pressing issues like medical care and finances.

Sometimes there is a rush to judgment on what a senior has the capacity to do. I have long been a supporter of allowing older people to make their own decisions as long as they can.

However, I also believe that someone needs to be a part of the decision-making process for senior citizens, or anyone facing medical or financial decisions.

As we get older, we should have discussions with family and friends to make our wishes clear, and ask family members to commit to honoring those wishes. If we don’t put our wishes in writing, or set up a legal living will or a trust, then someone is going to make decisions for us at some point.

We have all heard stories about predatory financial scams and repair schemes where seniors are duped out of their life savings. Often seniors are too ashamed to tell family members about the scams and lost money. But who, young or old, hasn’t made bad decisions?

The Securities and Exchange Commission lists these “red flags” concerning senior investors:

• appears to have difficulty speaking or communicating

• is unable to appreciate the consequences of decisions

• displays erratic behavior

• is not aware of, or does not understand, recently completed financial transactions

• appears uncharacteristically unkempt or forgetful

• appears concerned or confused about missing funds in accounts

Sometimes children want to reach in too quickly to take over the affairs of their senior loved ones. Working together is often key to ensuring the best outcomes.

Mitchel Nickols, Ph.D., of Lower Burrell, is an instructor in the leadership and administration and community engagement programs at Point Park University. He is a diversity and sensitivity trainer and consultant for police departments and school districts throughout Western Pennsylvania.

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