Artist Ages a Woman from Baby to Old Age in Mere Minutes

It’s often said that life goes by in the blink of an eye. Now, an artist has created an incredible video that shows it happening almost that quickly, and the effect is deeply moving.

Korean artist Seok Jeong Hyeon, better known as “Stonehouse,” uses the magic of computer illustration and animation to age a woman from infancy through old age in a matter of minutes. Impressively, the basic features of her face and body remain constant, and yet he moves her through different fashions and states of maturity, all achieved with the smallest of changes.

You can watch the video on the Daily Mail website. Be prepared, though, especially if you’ve had children of your own — tears are likely!

The video really impresses upon us two inescapable themes of life: it changes fast, and yet somehow a central part of us remains the same. Watching Stonehouse’s work, it’s easy to recognize my own journey in much of that progression, and I’m sure that’s true for many of yours too.

It’s especially moving to consider that somewhere along the middle of the piece, the artist’s young subject may have had a baby of her own, starting the “circle of life” all over again.

Life is as precious as it is rapid, and that’s true at every single stage along the way. The more we change, the more we stay the same. Growing up and growing old really are art forms all their own, and nothing could be more beautiful.

Daily Exercise Promotes Mobility and Wards Off Dementia

Confirming what experts have suspected for a while now, a new scientific study by the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago finds that daily exercise has a profound limiting effect on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. As an added bonus, daily movements also prevent the kind of brain damage that could impair mental and motor function as you get older.

The study adds to our growing understanding about how non-medicinal lifestyle changes may largely ward off the worst parts of growing old. Its findings are reported in greater detail at WebMD.

Most interestingly, the researchers reveal that you can claim these protective health benefits for yourself with only a moderate amount of pleasurable physical activity. In other words, you don’t have to run a marathon.

That’s very important because the biggest reason that people avoid an active lifestyle is that extreme exercise simply isn’t fun. Given the prospect of working up a daily sweat on a miles-long hike, many choose to settle in on the couch instead.

But that’s a false dichotomy. Seniors needn’t choose between extreme sports and couch potato-dom. Researchers found that even more moderate amounts of enjoyable movement could be equally effective, so long as it’s safe and daily.

Their advice isn’t only for the elderly, either. The earlier in life you adopt daily physicality, the more fully you can protect against future brain damage (and the sooner you can start reversing any damage already done).

Given the fact that dementia is on the rise all around the world, I’m thrilled to see so many new reports about simple lifestyle changes that we all can make to meaningfully reduce our risk of disease.

Of course, it’s important to remember that exercise isn’t a guaranteed cure-all, and even the most active senior is likely to experience an increase in healthcare costs as they age. Even in a future that could see substantially fewer cases of dementia, long-term care planning remains important. The good news, though, is that it’s a future we can really be excited to plan for.

Elderly Entrepreneurs: Small Business & Old Age Go Hand in Hand

We sometimes tend to think of upstarts and entrepreneurialism as a young person’s game. Not so! The truth is that American businesses span the whole age spectrum, and the aging-and-elderly populations make up a bigger portion than you might think.

The U.S. Census Bureau recently released its Business Dynamic Statistics from 2014, and the results are surprising:

  • 16% of small business owners are under the age of 35
  • 33% are ages 35-49
  • 51% are ages 50-88!

Additionally, the Census found that the average age of a first-time business founder is 39. Similarly, the report shows that most of America’s small businesses have already been around for decades, and their owners are much older now.

That tells us a few things. For one, as I often mention, so-called “old age” isn’t always the slow-paced lifestyle it’s made out to be. It isn’t uncommon for someone in their sixties, seventies, or even eighties to be involved in the day-to-day operations of the business world.

The study also demonstrates that a great many Americans need to consider their small businesses as part of an estate plan. Someone will need to take over those businesses — or at the very least, manage their affairs — in the event of unexpected death. Practically speaking, that requires a lot more than simply transferring ownership interest to somebody else in a will.

If you own a business in Massachusetts and aren’t sure whether your existing estate plan adequately safeguards your company against worst-case scenarios, I’d be happy to talk with you about options for shoring up those plans.

Small businesses and old age go hand in hand. Together, we can make sure yours will stay in good hands too.

Who Takes Care of You If You Don’t Have Kids?

When it comes to growing older, there is one great insurance plan that you simply can’t buy from an agent: your children.

Family members provide the majority of senior care in this country. They do it with little training, no pay, and in spite of their own busy lives — all out of the goodness of their hearts. The situation isn’t ideal, but given the cost of senior care (especially for those suffering with illness), it’s often the only practical option.

But what happens if you don’t have kids to care for you?

A new study shows that a growing number of people in the U.K. are choosing not to have children there. That could mean major changes to their healthcare system in less than a generation’s time. A few years ago, The New York Times told us that a similar trend is happening here in the United States.

Potentially, an increase in childless seniors could spell catastrophe for the healthcare system. But so far, that hasn’t been the case.

Studies find that childless couples do not receive less care on average than those with kids. Nor do they score any lower on the happiness index. Very few express regret over the decision not to become parents, just as those who did have kids are happy to have done so. It seems most people are more or less happy with their lot in life by the time they reach the end of it.

Still, the Times notes, older Americans do worry about who’ll help them down the road. For many, “chosen family” networks — friends, volunteers, and support groups — fill the void.

Will that continue as a viable system-wide solution as the number of childless elders grows? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, one of the best steps you can take for yourself is to begin a long-term care plan as soon as possible. Making legal and financial arrangements today could spare you a lot of hardship and anxiety in later years.

There’s no reason for anyone to fear the future, regardless of the lives they’ve chosen for themselves. If you’d like to talk about your options, feel free to give me a call. We can put together a plan that will give you peace of mind.

Estate Planning Disasters!

A solid estate plan is a great disaster-avoidance tool. The majority of Americans don’t have so much as a Last Will and Testament in place, and that’s a recipe for family feuds and assorted complications.

Every now and then, though, an estate plan can actually cause a disaster. Almost always, it’s because the person doesn’t consult with a professional first, or because they forget to update their plans following major changes in their lives.

Forbes recently assembled six such scenarios, all of them real-life stories about families learning the hard way that prudent planning matters. Some are amusing, others distressing, and they all serve as encouragement to give our estate plans a second look.

There was, for instance, the man whose wife died, followed a short time later by his own death. Since she was the only beneficiary listed in the will, his estate went to his next of kin — a woman he’d never met living in a country far away and his late wife’s estranged daughter. Not quite what he intended!

Another woman was distressed to learn that her husband had never updated his will after divorcing his first wife. Much to his widow’s surprise, most of his major assets — including a big life insurance policy — went to his ex. Meanwhile, the widow had to split the rest of the estate with her mother-in-law (as you might have guessed, they don’t get along).

Gleaning a few life lessons out of these cautionary tales, Forbes offers the following bits of advice to all of us who are still among the living:

  • Chose your Personal Representative with care. Just because a child was born first, doesn’t mean he or she is the best choice.
  • Update your will and ensure that it’s valid (don’t simply assume).
  • When crafting wills/trusts, dispose of your estate’s assets with specificity.
  • Amend your list of beneficiaries after any birth, death, wedding, etc.
  • From a tax perspective, never underestimate the value of your personal property.
  • Don’t give large sums of money to minors without restrictions.

Sage advice, certainly! Having an estate plan is very important, but it’s equally essential that it be capable of carrying our your intended wishes. An outdated or sloppily drafted estate plan can have unfortunate and unforeseen consequences. Diligence really does pay off.

If you’d like to make doubly sure that your own estate plan is safely outside the “disaster zone,” please don’t hesitate to contact me for an easy review.

60 No Longer Considered “Old Age”

How old is “old age?” Older than it used to be, at least!

A major new report makes a clear and convincing case that people in their sixties simply do not have the life or health profile that we once characterized as “old.” They are healthier, happier, more active, more vivacious, and living longer than ever before.

That’s been the perception for a while. Take a look at the fifty- and sixty-somethings in your own life or on TV. How many of them strike you as “old”?

Now we have a study, based on a large body of credible research, to prove that those changing perceptions are well founded. Specifically, the study shows all the following:

  • Heart disease, cancer, and serious illness are all down by nearly 50% over the last decade in both men and women in their sixties.
  • Dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s are down by similar rates.
  • Only 7.7% of people aged 60-64 have had heart attack or stroke.
  • The 50-and-up demographic now accounts for an overall smaller percentage of the total number of people with serious illnesses.

Experts credit the remarkable improvement to a few factors:

  • Better awareness of diet and exercise
  • Decrease in smoking
  • Improvements in cancer diagnosis and treatment
  • Better medications, especially statins and blood pressure pills
  • More active lifestyles

Naturally, there is a flip side. Lower rates of disease in the sixties translates to a higher rate of illness in the eighties, but then that is at least more in line with people’s lifetime expectations. It’s likely this is just the beginning, too. I expect more good news in the health department on the horizon.

Old age may not have been “cured,” but it’s certainly been delayed. That’s great news for all of us as we realize just how much life we still have waiting down the road.

Signs of Caregiver Stress

So much of the discussion about long-term care in this country is focused on the patients and the payments. That makes sense. Long-term care can be very expensive and it has an inestimable impact on the lives of the elderly who need it.

In giving those issues the attention they deserve, though, we mustn’t overlook one invaluable piece of the senior-care puzzle: the voluntary family caregiver.

About Health tells us that more than 22.4 million Americans are providing some form of informal, unpaid care to elderly or disabled relatives. Their efforts are noble but they can also be incredibly stressful.

We also know that the majority of visits to doctor’s offices in this country are stress-related. Stress is a real concern and a verified cause of illness. It is important, then, for caregivers to set a moment aside for serious self-assessment.

According to About Health, the following are the most common signs and symptoms of in-home caregiver stress:

  • Anxiety that doesn’t get better after a short time
  • Crying more than usual
  • Frequent sadness or mood swings
  • Low energy
  • Changes in sleeping patterns (i.e. insomnia, oversleeping, etc.)
  • Changes in eating patterns (i.e. loss of appetite, overeating, etc.)
  • Social isolation
  • Diminished interest in your usual hobbies
  • Feeling that you don’t have time for yourself
  • Tension headaches
  • Feeling angry or resentful toward the person you are caring for

If you’ve checked off more than one or two of these, the following resources can help you manage your stress, connect with other caregivers, and find some balance:

Staying in strong physical and emotional health isn’t important for only the caregiver. The elderly recipient of care also needs somebody who’s staying in good spirits and good health.

If you’re caring for someone at home and feeling a little overwhelmed, please know that it’s normal and that you aren’t alone. Allow yourself to take a deep breath and create some “me time.” If you need outside help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Remember: you can’t help anyone else until you’re taking care of yourself too.

A Marriage to Remember: A Touching Short Film on Alzheimer’s

In a new short-film documentary entitled A Marriage to Remember, filmmaker Banker White takes a starkly intimate look into his parents’ struggle with his mother’s early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

In her youth, Pam White was a model and an actress. Later, she devoted her entire life to her family and her kids. Now, they’re paying her back with around-the-clock in-home care.

The film visits Pam at an interesting moment in the course of her disease. For the most part, she’s still in command of her mental faculties. In one candid car ride, her son asks whether the confusion has been difficult for her. Wittingly, she replies, “I’m not confused. You think I’m confused?”

She isn’t arguing or in denial. She’s just being precise. Confusion isn’t exactly her issue just yet. Ultimately, Banker agrees. That wasn’t the right word.

It’s a telling moment that keenly illustrates the sneaky progression of Alzheimer’s. Here is a woman who still recognizes, still remembers, still engages in conversation, and is clearly still quite sharp. And yet she is also undeniably struggling.

Her husband has to pull her out of bed and help her shuffle from one room to the next and down the stairs. He tells us that the change in just one year has been “profound.” Her son says there are early mornings where he’s sure she doesn’t recognize them at first. “That is beginning,” her husband says.

But while the narrative of Alzheimer’s is often a sad one, sorrow is not the prevailing sentiment in A Marriage to Remember — and that is what makes it so impactful in its brief, eight-minute runtime.

“Initially, I was quite distressed,” Pam tells us. “…But it doesn’t really change anything… I don’t feel sad and I don’t feel regret. I feel blessed that I have this wonderful family and a husband who is extraordinarily wonderful.”

Blessed. What an outlook. And truly, the film is as much husband Ed’s story as it is Pam’s. It reveals the unshakeable strength of a marriage that is so strong that not even Alzheimer’s can break it. Theirs is a love for times both better and worse. It is truly inspiring.

Silver linings and love help to redeem even the darkest diagnoses. A Marriage to Remember is a testament to that. It’s a very short film, and I think you’ll be glad you watched it. You can find it streaming for free at The New York Times.

If you and your family are currently going through an Alzheimer’s experience of your own, I also recommend getting in touch with the Alzheimer’s Association of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, as they offer a number of programs and services that can be of great help.

Lights… Cameras… Estate Plans? When Wills Hit the Big Screen

From Philip Seymour Hoffman and Heath Ledger to Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor, Hollywood’s dearly departed have taught us a lot about estate planning over the years.

Forbes put together a list of those lessons last year, demonstrating how creative and chaotic estate planning can be in the spotlight of fortune and fame. That had me thinking — it isn’t only the stars themselves who impart insight on the prudence of planning. Sometimes their movies do too.

Here’s a look back at a few of the greatest movies to put estate planning front and center (or at least in the middle of a juicy plot twist):

Cover of "The Aristocats (Special Edition...

Cover of The Aristocats (Special Edition)

  • The Aristocats (1970) — When you think about complex legal concepts, Disney animated features aren’t the first things that spring to mind. Nevertheless, The Aristocats offers a textbook illustration of the classic “life estate with remainder in fee simple absolute” — in other words, an elderly widow who leaves her entire estate to her cats, with the remainder to pass to her butler after the cats die. Unfortunately, the criminally inclined butler isn’t eager to wait that long…
  • The Descendants (2011) — George Clooney plays an attorney and the sole trustee for a massive family trust containing 25,000 acres of beautiful Hawaiian land. A series of accidents and unfortunate timing force his enormous family to wade through the murky waters of wills & trusts. Most interestingly, the whole plot revolves around “The Rule Against Perpetuities” (a pesky legal rule that limits some people’s future interest in property if too much time passes before the interest vests). Notably, both Hawaii and Massachusetts have adopted the same uniform version of “The Rule Against Perpetuities.”
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) — Nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards, Hotel’s haywire plot is anchored in a controversial bequest. When an older woman dies, she leaves a very valuable painting to her much, much younger lover. Naturally, her ne’er-do-well children are less than thrilled. They challenge the validity of her will, and while that proceeding plays out with a little more madcap action than most of the real-life cases I’ve seen, it’s a great showcase for how easily miscommunication and strife can muddle an estate plan.

In Hollywood as in real life, estate planning is a potential breeding ground for epic drama — no wonder it’s a favorite topic in the screenwriting world! Of course, most of the movies’ great estate capers could have been avoided with careful planning.

What did I miss? If you have any favorite films with a focus on estate planning, please feel free to share them. And should any of these cinematic classics spark a question about your own estate plan, don’t hesitate to give me a call.

Amy Grant’s Three Tips for Family Caregivers

Amy Grant has made a career out of inspirational storytelling in song, earning six Grammy awards and more than thirty million record sales along the way. She’s one of the best-selling female recording artists of all time, but now she also has a new job title on her résumé: long-term care provider.

Grant’s parents were each diagnosed with different but severe forms of dementia late last decade. Her mother passed away in 2011, an experience that informed most of the songwriting on Grant’s most recent album, released in 2013.

Her father, meanwhile, still suffers from dementia so profound that he has lost nearly all his ability to communicate.

Grant sat down with Guideposts magazine to share three insights she’s found throughout the heartbreaking journey she’s taken with both her parents. Her tips for family caregivers include:

  1. Frame your experience in a way that gives meaning to what you’re going through.” Grant said that the key for them was finding a silver lining in an otherwise trying experience. “This is the last great lesson that we’ll learn from our dad,” she says.
  1. Spread the responsibility. Grant recommends making a list of all the people to whom this aging person matters. Rather than allowing an excessive burden to fall on just a few shoulders, encourage extended family and friends to realize that they’re a part of the puzzle too. She concedes, though, that relating to someone with dementia can be challenging for some family members, especially youngsters.
  1. Start preparing to fund long-term care as soon as possible. While Grant’s dad was a successful doctor and she herself has gone on to enjoy superstar fame, she recognizes that most families aren’t as fortunate. She stresses the need for parents and children alike to consider insurance and long-term care planning, even if everyone in the family is still in good health.

Her advice is well taken, and it is nice to see someone in the public eye shine a light on the need for long-term care planning, even as it comes in the midst of her personal sadness. For more of Grant’s eloquent and inspiring story, watch her Guideposts interview online.