Never too early
to get jump on aging

A series explains contingency
plans like wills and directives

All adults should plan for aging, potential physical or mental incapacity and death, even those who have just graduated from high school.

"You just never know what is going to happen," said James H. Pietsch, University of Hawaii Elder Law Program director, who advocates preventive law, as well as preventive medicine.

"The theme is, 'Plan for the worst and expect the best,'" he said.

Pietsch said everyone age 18 and above should at least have:

>> A will;
>> A legal document naming someone to make decisions in case of incapacity;
>> A directive expressing a person's wishes about medical treatment and end of life care.

Young people involved with older people in discussions about the future are more likely to plan ahead, too, he said.

"Many big court cases involving end of life decisions involve young people, so it happens to everybody."

Failure to plan for incapacity is the biggest problem his program sees, Pietsch added, noting, "The likelihood of future incapacity and sickness, something bad happening, increases as we survive longer and longer."

Troops aren't deployed to hostile areas without an opportunity to plan for injury or death, with power of attorney documents and wills to take care of things, Pietsch pointed out.

"That's the same for the population staying here. What happens if something bad happens to you? Do loved ones have the tools and information to care for you?

"What if you become incapacitated temporarily, hit by a car? How are things going to be taken care of? Who's going to pay the mortgage, pay the bills?"

Karen Miyake, county executive on aging for the city Elderly Affairs Division, said: "A lot of people don't prepare (for the future) because it's unknown territory, and there is some resistance to one getting older."

Miyake and Pat Sasaki, director of the state Executive Office on Aging, are working on a proposal for federal funds to develop a one-stop center to provide information and resources to elders and caregivers.

"People can not get good attention from a Web site or even talking on a phone," Sasaki said. The goal is to assemble social workers, legal and nursing professionals at one site to counsel and help people, she said.

"We would want this to be a place where people feel welcome and won't get bureaucratic treatment people complain about," she added.

Kathryn Braun, University of Hawaii Center on Aging director, said planning for the future should cover financial, retirement and end-of-life issues. Money should be put aside for retirement as well as the children's education, she said. "In the 30s and, if not the 30s, in the 40s."

For caregivers, families and seniors needing guidance, Pietsch and Lenora H. Lee, Elder Law legal assistant, produced a legal handbook called "Deciding 'What If?'"

Published by the Elderly Affairs Division, it covers planning for incapacity, medical treatment and health care decisions, financing health care, including long-term care, and tips for hiring a caregiver and coping with death.

Eight lessons on planning issues began Feb. 3 on Channel 55 and are being shown from 7 to 8 p.m. every Tuesday on Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island. Maui residents may want to record it when it shows there from 3 to 4 a.m. on Wednesdays.

Hawaii professionals discuss goal setting, banking and credit, general planning, money management, understanding insurance, retirement planning, legal issues, caregiving and estate planning.

"We have found there are many older people who haven't learned some of this yet," said Pamela Kutara, extension educator at the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.

The college-sponsored sessions originally were geared for older women, many of whom depended on others to manage money for them, Kutara said. They've since been expanded and revised to help young people and others needing help to manage money, she said.

An online UH MoneyEd course free to the public also has been introduced on basic money management, she said. (See moneyed.)

The Elder Law program provides basic legal services for socially and economically needy seniors. It also works closely with the county elderly affairs agencies and Executive Office on Aging, Pietsch said.

"People are starting to get the message, but even in a hospital context, with little more success than before, only 25 to 30 percent of people make advance directives, under 50 percent of admissions," he said.

"This just shows people either aren't doing planning in advance, because this is one of the significant areas, or they're losing the documents or the system is not keeping up with it," he said. He believes people simply aren't doing advance planning.

People who have an advance health care directive can state it on their driver's license so emergency responders and hospital people have that information, Pietsch said, urging people to look beyond plans for death to potential incapacity.

"Things happen suddenly. Why not get started on it? It's the right thing to do and it helps your family and it helps society too because so many questions arise in a hospital setting where nobody knows what to do. Nobody even knows who to call."


PBS Hawaii to air aging program

PBS Hawaii and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin are presenting a special program by the National Governors Association, "Living Better: A National Conversation on Aging," at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow.

Gov. Linda Lingle and national experts will discuss public policies affecting health needs of senior citizens.

Lynne Waters will moderate a discussion with local authorities in gerontology, money management and social services. They will cover such issues as financial planning for senior years, health challenges, where to go for support services and government's responsibility to the aging population.

Resources help plan ahead

Key sources of information about care, planning and services for seniors:

>> Elderly Affairs Division Senior Hotline, 523-4545.

>> Executive Office on Aging, 586-0100.

>> Senior Information and Assistance Handbook, published by the City-County Elderly Affairs Division, available at American Savings Bank branches and on the division's Web site,

>> "Deciding 'What If?'", a legal handbook for caregivers, families and older people written by the University of Hawaii Elder Law Program and published by the Elderly Affairs Division. The Elder Law Web site:

>> "Guide to Better Hearing," published by the Elderly Affairs Division.

>> The University of Hawaii Center on Aging, 956-8916. It is recruiting participants to help test these booklets being prepared for public distribution in September: "Making Choices Known," on advance care planning; "Care for the Dying," preparing to say good-bye; " Surviving and Adapting to Change," help for the bereaved; "Funeral and Memorial Services," planning ahead. A fifth book is being developed on what to do when death occurs.


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