Denial is a primitive defense mechanism of humans that starts in early childhood. There are incentives to refusing to face reality or facts - it allows us to act in the face of adversity. But at some point, reality slaps us down. By continually operating in a space of denial, we are often ill prepared when reality can no longer be ignored.
Health status and lifestyle are big drivers in financial plans. If you live a healthy lifestyle and have great genetics for longevity, you are at higher risk for Alzheimer’s when you are old and should plan accordingly for the cost and logistics of your care. Likewise, if you are an overweight diabetic and are unable to limit your sugar intake to keep your diabetes and weight in control, you need to plan for the secondary problems diabetes may cause – increased risk of early death and disability from heart disease, renal failure, amputations and blindness. Getting your Proactive Aging Plan in place and understanding your potential health costs in earlier years is important to reduce financial and physical suffering.
Society generally frowns on people accepting the limitations they have in managing their health problems. It is construed as a lack of willpower if people don’t follow through with lifestyle changes, "giving up the fight" if they enter hospice, or "noncompliance" if they refuse a treatment. Sometimes the burden of lifestyle change or treatment is too much, and instead of talking about it so adjustments can be made, the patient just "soldiers on" without making changes. Family and medical professionals become frustrated, treatment of the inevitable outcomes becomes reactive, and everyone suffers physically and financially.
Instead of resorting to denial to deal with unpleasant health events, can we embrace the truth and make the most of it? If you have a significant health problem that you are not dealing with effectively, do the following:
• Make sure you understand what you can and cannot control about your health.
• Share with your doctor what you are willing to do and what you are not willing to do to participate in your health care.
• Make sure you understand the potential outcomes of your actions.
• Share with your family your decisions and the future ramifications, preferably in writing.
• Prepare financially for the outcomes by updating your estate planning documents, creating a financial plan, documenting your Proactive Aging Plan, and completing your advance directives.
• Revisit the plan periodically and adjust it as needed.
In our experience, clients are most willing to talk about aging and dying when they are young or if they are dealing with an aging or dying family member. The most reluctant tend to be males over the age of 70 - they don't want to face the loss of control and staying in denial is a powerful tool. Do not wait until problems occur. Begin these conversations early, own your health status, and plan accordingly.