A guide to planning ahead for end of life
A guide to planning ahead for end of life

Nobody ever truly wants to think about the end of their life, or about a loved one’s passing. But, planning ahead is important to ensure that wishes are honoured and their passing can be dignified.

End of life planning ensures everyone is on the same page and eliminates the guesswork when the time does arrive.  It can also help make what is already an incredibly difficult situation slightly less stressful on the family.

Where possible, end of life planning should be a collaborative experience with your loved one. Or, if you are the one preparing for your own death, it’s important to ensure your family is aware of your wishes. 

Here, we’ve compiled some of the end of life decisions that should be considered — as well as a checklist that may help.

Make an advance care plan

Advance care planning is when an individual makes decisions about their future medical care. 

It can include information about where they would like to be cared for, any medical treatments they do or do not consent to and their desired quality of life.

When making an advanced care plan, it’s important to think about beliefs and values, as well as any specific information related to any applicable medical conditions.

Preparing an advanced care directive can help give you or your loved one greater confidence that wishes will be respected.  The idea is that this letter will be passed on to any carers or medical teams so they can make any necessary arrangements. 

Different states and governments have different forms and processes when it comes to advance care plans, so be sure to visit Advanced Care Planning Australia’s website for specific guidelines.

Consider appointing decision-makers

In the event that an individual becomes too unwell to make their own decisions in relation to end of life planning, they can appoint someone else to do this for them. 

This person would advocate on their behalf, and make any necessary decisions or arrangements.

Ideally, you will already have made all the major decisions together, but this can be helpful if anything else pops up later down the track. 

There are a few different legal appointments that can be made in this area:

    • medical treatment decision-maker – can manage your medical needs
    • enduring power of attorney – can make financial decisions
    • enduring guardianship – can make personal and lifestyle decisions

This person will generally be a spouse, family member or close friend, and cannot be a healthcare professional or paid carer. They must also be over the age of 18.

This person will be trusted with you — or, your loved one’s — life and finances. So, it’s very important to choose carefully. They should be someone you know and trust, who has a strong understanding of what you want and don’t want and is willing to communicate these for you.

Again, different states and territories have different processes for formally appointing a substitute decision-maker. However, this will generally have to be submitted through an attorney or medical care directive, so be sure to look into the guidelines in your state.

Financial planning

Money is the last thing you want to think about at the end of your life. But, it’s important to make sure all financial affairs are in order, so your family knows how to access your superannuation and insurance. 

If you or your loved one have a life-limiting illness, you may also be able to gain access these early to help maintain quality of life and provide financial support to the family.

You may want to consider hiring a professional financial advisor to help you navigate these decisions, as areas like life insurance and superannuation can be quite complex. They may also be able to help you put together for paying off any outstanding debts.

The Australian Investment and Securities Commission (ASIC) offers a free financial counselling service, if funds are tight.

Preparing your will

If you or your loved one haven’t already prepared a will, now is certainly the time. It’s also a good time to review your existing will if you have one. 

A will is essentially a legal document that sets out what will happen to an individual’s assets when they pass away. This can include physical assets like your property, cars or jewellery, financial assets like shares or savings or heirlooms with sentimental value.

In this document, you will also outline any gifts you would like to give away, and choose the executor of the will. This is the person who will be in charge of the distribution of your will after you pass. 

They will be responsible for notifying all beneficiaries of your will and distributing assets to them, as well as collecting any debts owed to you and paying any you owe, organising any necessary valuations of your assets (for example, your property) and more. 

It’s a good idea to select at least two executors in the event that one is unable to assist. As with your decision-makers, your executors should be a close and trusted friend or family member.

Preparing your will is an extremely important part of end of life planning, as, if you don’t have one, the court will decide what happens to your assets. This may cause unnecessary stress and discomfort to your family.

Planning personal matters

Many people like to ensure they have all their ‘ducks in a row’ as the end of their life approaches. This includes not only health and financial matters, but personal ones, too.

If there are any friends or people you or your loved one has unresolved issues with, now may be a good time to contact them. This step can also include deciding who you would like to have around in the final days and any religious practices you would like carried out. 

Here, you may also choose to discuss preferences for post-life care. For example, would you or your loved one prefer to be buried or cremated? Are there any specific requests for the memorial service?

Having these conversations may feel difficult or uncomfortable, but when handled with care they can actually be quite a positive experience. They can give you or your loved one the peace of mind that their passing will be as peaceful as possible. 

Here is a checklist that may help when planning.

End of life planning checklist:

Have you and/or your loved one:

    • Made an advanced care plan, including:
      • Where you would like to be cared for
      • Your preferred medical professionals or GP
      • Medical treatments you do and do not consent to 
      • Your preferences on life support

    • Appointed decision-makers, including:
      • Medical treatment decision-maker
      • Enduring Power of Attorney
      • Enduring Guardian

    • Got your financial affairs in order, including:
      • Determined how your superannuation will be distributed after you pass
      • Determined how your life insurance will be distributed after you pass
      • Created a list of all your debts
      • Created a list of all debts owed to you

    • Prepared your will, including:
      • Created a list of physical assets and how you would like these distributed
      • Created a list of financial assets and how you would like these distributed
      • Created a list of heirlooms and gifts and how you would like these distributed
      • Selected at least two beneficiaries of your will
      • Had the document legally checked and submitted by a trustee or solicitor

    • Got your personal affairs in order, including:
      • Making a plan for resolving unresolved issues
      • Communicated your preferences for end-of-life environment
      • Selected a burial or cremation for post-life care
      • Discussed funeral or memorial preferences

Tips to Help your Grandchildren Understand Dementia
Tips to Help your Grandchildren Understand Dementia

Watching a loved one change due to Alzheimer’s can be confronting, especially for children. By using these tips to help your grandchildren understand dementia (or Alzheimer’s which is a particular form of dementia), you can alleviate some of their fears and confusion.

It’s never easy watching the person you love change due to Alzheimer’s.

Although they’re still physically by your side, it can feel like you’ve lost a special part of them.

Even for adults, watching a loved one’s memory and mental abilities decline can be confronting.

So, we can only imagine how confusing and upsetting it must be for children — especially if their beloved nan or pop no longer remembers who they are.

The good news is, there are ways of explaining dementia to your grandchildren to help them understand what’s happening.

By talking to them about the condition, you can help them get the most of the treasured time they have left with their grandparent.

Tips for helping your grandchildren understand dementia
Keep it simple

When it comes to explaining dementia to a child, it’s best to keep it simple, direct and age-appropriate.

For younger children, you may choose to say something like “Grandma has a condition that makes it hard for her to remember things” or “Grandpa’s memory isn’t what it used to be, so we need to take special care of him.”

On the other hand, older children or teenagers may be more interested in understanding the ‘why’ behind dementia in the elderly.

You can explain that Alzheimer’s is a neurological disease that affects some people in old age, and that dementia is a term to describe some of the symptoms that go along with it — such as memory loss, reduced mental function and changes in behaviour.

Use comparison

To help with understanding dementia, it can be useful to give children a point of reference.

Some people liken the condition to regressing back to a young child — as depending on the severity of their condition they may struggle to communicate verbally.

You can use this comparison when explaining Alzheimer’s to children.

For example, you could say something like “Grandpa isn’t quite his usual self, but he’s more like that three-year-old who lives next to you.”

This can help alleviate some of the fears they have around seeing their grandparent’s behaviour change.

Use tools to help you

You don’t have to go through the experience of explaining dementia to a child alone.

There are many excellent resources out there to help guide you. Dementia Australia has a range of accurate and informative information and videos you can access also.

Storytelling can be a very powerful tool, as it helps children understand that they’re not alone in the experience of dealing with dementia.

“Grandma Forgets” is a beautiful, illustrated book that tells the heart warming story of a family’s love as they cope with their grandma’s dementia.

Harry Helps Grandpa Remember is another gentle introduction to the realities of dementia, filled with humour, hope and compassion.

YouTube is another helpful resource, as there are many videos created for kids by kids to help them understand the condition.

Explain that it’s not about them

Children may feel hurt that their grandparent no longer remembers their name or gets them confused with someone else.

They may begin to wonder if they’ve done something wrong, or if that special bond they had with their grandparent ever really existed.

It’s important to let them know that the current circumstances doesn’t mean they love them any less.

Help them understand that the memory loss and behaviour has nothing to do with them, and everything to do with their grandparent’s condition

Hear them out

It’s important to listen just as much as you talk when explaining dementia to a child.

Hear them out and be as open and honest as you can when answering their questions.

They may feel sad, confused, scared and even angry and that’s perfectly valid.

Rather than telling them that their feelings are wrong, let them know that you understand and that you’re there for them.

Put a positive spin on it

Many of us think of dementia in quite a dark and negative light — most likely, because we associate it with loss.

However, it’s possible to flip the narrative and put a more positive spin on it.

While people living with severe dementia tend to lose much of their short term memory, they’re sometimes about to recall very old ones or dream up new ones altogether.

With your grandchildren, it can be fun to immerse yourself in these imaginary worlds — you can say “I wonder where Grandpa is going on her cruise ship” or “What do you think Grandma is wearing to her debutante ball?”

With younger children, just be sure to draw the line between imagination and reality, so they know you’re just playing pretend.

Help them enjoy their time together

Just because your loved one isn’t their usual self, doesn’t mean your grandchild can’t enjoy spending time with them.

One of the best things you can do for them is to help them continue to create cherished memories together.

Try brainstorming  some ways they can spend time with their grandchild without holding a complex conversation.

This could include reading to them, listening to music together or getting out into nature.

They could also make something together, such as a scrapbook, a birdhouse or some simple jewellery.

Not only is this a fun activity, but it’s also a great way to memorialise their time together.

The bond between children and their grandparents is a beautiful one, and dementia doesn’t have to change that. By using the above tips, you can help children understand Alzheimer’s and enjoy their time together without fear or confusion.

Benefits of Art Therapy for Seniors
Benefits of Art Therapy for Seniors

Art therapy is a creative way for seniors to manage pain and stress and deal with memory loss. Studies have found that seniors who do art have fewer doctor’s visits, better physical health, and require less medication. They also fall less frequently. One study connected art to decreased rates of loneliness and depression, along with better hand dexterity and higher morale.

Here are some more of the art therapy benefits for seniors:

Improved Memory

Going to museums, painting, sculpting, and many other types of art therapy are hugely helpful, and can actually help people with memory loss. In fact, the Alzheimer’s Disease Center in the United States believes that art therapy gets through to people with Alzheimer’s by exploiting parts of the brain with the least impairment. This can have a profound impact on their ability to access their memories.

Reduced Pain

Many seniors are impacted by arthritis, hypertension, and other pain. Art therapy is naturally relaxing and can help reduce stiffness and inflammation. Seniors are using their arms and fingers for art, and while this is light physical activity, it’s consistent, and can help promote better dexterity and blood flow. By using small, purposeful movements, they benefit from increased coordination and can more easily ignore their pain since they’re focused on their art.

Reduced Stress

Art therapy can reduce stress for people of all ages, but it’s particularly helpful for seniors and people with the early stages of memory loss. We have around 60,000 thoughts a day and many of these can be negative for people dealing with aging, so art therapy is particularly helpful. That’s because when seniors are engaged with an art therapy activity, they’re often ‘in the zone’ and can enjoy an almost meditative experience.

This sense of well-being can greatly reduce anxiety and stress in seniors.

Reduced Depression

Seniors struggling with health implications, memory loss, or mobility problems will commonly experience depression. When they create art, the symptoms of depression are often reduced due to mood and cognitive stimulation. Even seniors who have problems communicating verbally can still express their thoughts and feelings through their art.

Increased Communication and Socialisation

By getting involved in art projects, seniors can find it easier to connect with others, reducing the feelings of isolation and loneliness that are common in the twilight years. Many people who have dementia / Alzheimer’s can find it difficult to express themselves and communicate with others, and art therapy can help them do this by providing a visual means of communication.

Relief from Chronic Conditions

Growing older can be very difficult for some people, particularly people living with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, dementia, or are currently recovering from a stroke.

Dealing with these conditions and the limited mobility that can occur can sometimes be overwhelming. But art activities and crafts projects can provide some relief for these conditions. This can range from painting to pottery, games to puzzles. Coloring projects, scrapbooking, and other activiites give seniors something to look forward to, while taking their minds off their condition.

Improved Brain Function

As we age, so do our brains. This can make it difficult to carry out some tasks- particularly when living with dementia / Alzheimer’s. Art therapy for adults can help boost these cognitive functions, improving senior’s abilities to use logic and reasoning, problem solve, focus on tasks for a sustained period of time, and improve working memory.

Art therapy can make a massive difference when it comes to both the mental and physical health of seniors. To learn more about why we love art therapy, get in touch today.

Top 10 Summer Safety Tips for Seniors
Top 10 Summer Safety Tips for Seniors

With summer officially here, you and your family will probably be spending a lot of time enjoying the lovely weather. However, there are a few things to keep in mind in order to stay safe over summer.

Here are our top 10 summer safety tips for seniors:

1. Stay Hydrated

People who are aged 65 years and over need to take special precautions in hot weather, as they may be more likely to suffer from heat-related illnesses. While our bodies usually cool us down by sweating, this sometimes isn’t enough, and the body temperature will keep rising.

This is known as hyperthermia or heat stress. Illnesses related to this can range from a rash to potentially life-threatening issues like heatstroke.

For this reason, one of the most important summer tips for seniors is to take hydration seriously. Your body may not always tell you that it needs water. That’s why you should be proactive and drink plenty of water, and potentially use sweat replacement products containing electrolytes on very hot days.

2. Stay Cool

It can be difficult to stay cool in the height of summer, but luckily, modern technology makes it easier to stay cool while still getting out of the house. Movie theatres, shopping malls, libraries, and cafes will usually be nice and cool if you don’t have air conditioning.

These places are also a great way to socialise or get some exercise without spending too much time in the heat.

3. Communicate

Summer safety for seniors will always involve communication. It’s important that the whole family recognises that high temperatures have the potential to be life-threatening for both seniors and small children. Seniors should always let family and friends know if they’ll be outdoors for an extended period of time- even if they’re just pulling out a few weeds.

Another option? Set up a specific time to talk after you’re back inside and in the cool.

4. Keep Sunscreen Close

We all know how deadly the sun can be in Australia. That’s why it’s important to follow the sun safety tips we hear each year. These include ‘Slip, Slop Slap.’ Make sure that you’re slipping on a long-sleeved shirt, slopping on plenty of sunscreen, and slapping on a hat.

Seniors also have diminished defences against skin cancer. Since the skin gets thinner and more fragile as we age, seniors are more susceptible to the type of fast-acting skin damage caused by the sun.

5. Be Prepared

When you’re focusing on summer safety, one of the best things you can do is have a backup plan. That’s why it’s a good idea to write down a list of emergency phone numbers and keep them somewhere easy to access- like on the fridge or by the phone.

That way, it’s easy to get in touch with the right people if you do need help.

6. Look After Your Eyes

This is one of those safety tips that can be easy to forget until you’re outside somewhere and fighting the glare in the middle of summer. Many seniors can find themselves dealing with vision loss, and if you spend too much time exposing your eyes to the sun, this can irritate your them, causing further damage. Be sure to always wear sunglasses if you’re outside to look after your vision and protect your eyes from UV rays.

7. Check Your Prescriptions

There are many medications that increase your sun sensitivity. That’s why it’s important to check the side effects of any medications you’re taking so you’ll know if you need to take any extra precautions.

8. Exercise at the Right Times

While many summer health tips for seniors focus on staying indoors, many seniors are active well into their twilight years, and this shouldn’t change. However, the summer heat can make it difficult to do outdoor activities like golf, tennis, walking, and jogging.

Your best bet is to get up early and go outside before the heat of the day. You may also find that you enjoy exercising a little later- maybe even after dinner.

9. Get Help

Cooking, gardening, and cleaning can be much more difficult in the heat. That’s why it can be a good idea to hire some help over summer. There are plenty of options, including everything from light cleaning to in-home health services.

10. Know Your Warning Signs

This is one of the most important senior summer safety tips, and it applies to families and friends of seniors as well.

It’s normal to feel a little flushed and tired when the temperature rises, but if you’re feeling nauseous, you have a headache, and you’re fatigued, these are also early symptoms of heat stroke. Other warning signs include confusion, dizziness, high temperature, and often, a lack of sweat. If you notice these signs yourself, or in someone you love, get help immediately.