Joan Lunden, a former “Good Morning America” anchor, wants people to know the importance of planning ahead for their aging loved ones.

Lunden shared this message as keynote speaker at the annual Butterfly Hope Luncheon hosted by the Alzheimer’s Alliance of Smith County Thursday at the Green Acres Baptist Church CrossWalk Conference Center in Tyler.

She has a strong connection to dementia and Alzheimer’s, as she was a caregiver for her mother who had Alzheimer’s.

In a news conference prior to the luncheon, she said the journey allowed her to reflect on not being prepared.

“I couldn’t believe that I didn’t have a better plan. If you wait until the moment of crisis, it’s never easy trying to make decisions,” Lunden said.

She said the hardest day is when the child becomes the parent to aging loved ones.

“After they’ve been successful adults all their lives, that transition to me is the toughest transition in life and it’s uncomfortable for both parties,” Lunden said. “But it’s one that we all know will happen eventually, but that begs the question then why don’t we prepare for it better.”

Caring for her mother helped her to see the need to have those hard discussions about health documents for older loved ones.

“Everyone should have that family discussion that no one wants to talk about. The older they get the harder it becomes to talk about that, in my opinion,” she said. “You need a living will. That is an advanced health care directive that will tell you what that person wants when their life is in the balance.”

She noted life expectancy has gone up due to medical advancements. This often causes children or other family members to take care of aging loved ones as their health deteriorates.

“People are living so much longer and they’re digging into their retirement to take care of parents who didn’t think they would live that long,” Lunden said. “We’re going to have to rethink our ideas on aging as a society.”

As a caregiver, she said it’s important to be educated on the proper health care steps. Patience and understanding also are required.

“Keep coming back and telling them you love them. We don’t know what they remember,” Lunden said. “When you’re dealing with cognitive decline, it requires a lot of patience and understanding and knowledge of how to really deal with them. So not only they can stay as happy as possible, but you can stay as happy as possible.”

She commended the Alzheimer’s Alliance of Smith County for its commitment to patients and caregivers.

“They’re not only helping those people who need the care,” she said. “They’re also helping the caregivers because they’re often overlooked.”

Moving the retirement age back and letting people in their 70s stay in the workforce should be considered to keep an active mind and lifestyle, Lunden said.

“This is a pressing issue for us as a society. We don’t understand the impact of an aging population,” she said. “You can’t dispose of people as they get older.”

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