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Financial planning for old age, illness: 7 ways to take charge of healthcare now

The familiar bell rang. It was my mother-in-law pressing the button to summon help from her bedroom. As I entered her room, she was somewhat stoic and upset, even as she asked for a drink of ice cold water. She would do anything to fight the metallic taste in her tongue. That was eight years ago, when she was terminally ill. She had made it a habit to ring that bell approximately once in 30 minutes, and no one but me could respond. Prolonged illness and the fear of death changes people in ways many of us do not fathom. As a caregiver, I have seen perfectly reasonable and loving people turn very demanding, bordering on the unreasonable. My mother would speak glowingly about my services to her visitors, even while making many demands on me otherwise. Both these women were gentle, kind, generous and loving, until their illness took them to the doors of death.

My mother-in-law had an interesting insight. We were discussing the much publicised case of nurse Aruna Shanbagh who was then lying in a vegetative state, cared for by the nurses at the hospital where she had worked. The nurses felt like Gods, my mother-in-law said, because they were demonstrating selflessness by caring for Aruna. But did anyone think about how Aruna felt? Would she have wanted all this fuss given her condition? Wouldn’t she have liked the ordeal to end? The lack of purpose robs the joy of living. If one’s life is reduced to dependence on others for the simplest tasks, there is a deep loss of self respect. That despair also manifests as anger, selfishness, harsh words, or sheer indifference.

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Not everyone can exercise patience and exhibit gratitude when there is such a severe lack of control on one’s life and its basic functions. How can we even prepare? How can we deal with our age, infirmities, illnesses and the inevitable end? How can we try to make it better for ourselves and for others who care for us? First, as my dear friend Jo reminded me several times, take charge of what you can. Begin today. You are responsible for your limbs. Use them or lose them. Be determined to live healthy, and take care of what you can. Keep fit and flexible, and be determined to remain as independent as you can. Allocate a portion of your current income to your health and well being. Invest in yourself. Without the commitment of time and money, your personal goals will remain on paper.

Second, don’t keep a complicated financial life. You don’t want to lose control of your health and spend your last days worrying whether you told your children about the plot of land in the native village; the unpaid loan to a dear friend; or the unclaimed bond that matured last year. Keep your affairs simple, well listed and operational. Make it easy for others to use your money for your health needs if the need arises. Make it easy to delegate and hand over.

Third, consider the merits of a paid caregiver. Instead of allocating large amounts of money for complex healthcare, unutilised assets, or…

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