Perspectives on aging: Part 1

Sarah Widmeyer sits down with special guest Matt Del Vecchio, a Certified Professional Consultant on aging and a life-transition specialist who founded specialist company Lianas, to discuss challenges faced by adult children as their parents age.

Sarah and Matt discuss some of the cognitive and physical warning signs that adult children should consider, as well as the harsh reality of caregiver stress. Listen to their tips and strategies on navigating the transition of aging parents from a family home.

Sarah Widmeyer 00:00

Welcome to Conversations on Wealth hosted by Richardson GMP, a podcast dedicated to helping Canadians navigate the complexities of your wealth with a multidimensional approach to planning and wealth management.

I’m Sarah Widmeyer, Director of Wealth Strategies at Richardson GMP and this week we’re discussing some of the challenges faced by adult children with aging parents, and some of the strategies you can use to help them.

Today I’m very lucky to be joined by Matt Del Vecchio who is a Certified Professional Consultant on aging, a life transition specialist and he is owner of Lianas, senior transition support.

Welcome Matt.

Matt Del Vecchio 1:01

Thanks for having me, Sarah.

Sarah Widmeyer 1:02

Glad to have you!

So Matt, for those of us lucky enough to have parents well into their older years, we’re often faced with a delicate balancing act – I’m living that balancing act right now:

The need to be helpful without being overbearing or overprotective of them, because god knows they don’t want that. And knowing that parents’ fears and learning why they refuse help is fundamental to developing solutions that work for the parent and yourself as the caregiver.

Matt, what are some of the signs that you’ve seen of a parent in need of making a transition to a new home?

Matt Del Vecchio 1:39

Yeah, and I think you hit the word with delicate. It is delicate. You want what’s best for your parents – Mom and/or Dad. Usually you could see things before they can. One, they may not see it themselves. Or two, there’s probably a little denial and resistance. No one likes to age, and so we do run into these delicate conversations. However, as adult children, it’s almost role reversal. We need to look out for our parents.

There’s four warning signs that we always look out for. One starting with physical. For example, if there are some mobility issues and you have to navigate stairs and stairs are becoming a problem – it’s probably the number one issue in home living, trying to navigate the stairs particularly if there’s a cane or a walker – and bathrooms, bathtubs, showers is always a big concern – getting in and out, increasing risk of slips and falls. So be aware of physical warning signs.

We’re going to switch gears a little bit to cognitive warning signs. This is even more delicate because with cognitive decline, it’s not like a broken hip and you’re trying to recover. Cognitive decline usually happens over a period of time. It could be quick, it could be long. But if you’re starting to see things like Mom or Dad forgot to pay a bill. We’ve even had situations where they’ve left the oven on mistakenly. Take a look in their fridge or in their cupboard if there’s been expired food – these are little signs that there may be some cognitive decline. Then it starts to really ramp up if we get into situations where there’s risk of wandering – flight risk we would call them. This is heavier cognitive decline. So you need to be on the lookout for that.

Another big warning sign is caregiver stress. Caregiver stress could be the spouse – taking care of a husband or wife – or it may be now the adult child that’s constantly running back from their home to mom or dad’s home, and it just starts to be too much. Caregiver stress is a big issue.

One of the other ones is loneliness. There may have been the death of a spouse. Mom may be alone – “I’m fine don’t worry. I’m cooking fine. I’m doing well.” But over time loneliness does start to add up. And loneliness affects cognitive and physical abilities. So you need to be aware of that as well.

Sarah Widmeyer 3:58

It’s, as you know, it’s all ringing very true. My own personal situation: I have a failing, both parents. A father with physical needs. And my mom’s starting to suffer from cognitive issues. What I found, and my brother and I have found very challenging is trying to get them to understand that they need help. That there’s a requirement for change. That has been the biggest challenge I think that we have faced because you can put a stairlift in the house, you can make sure that mom’s getting out and seeing friends for bridge or what not. But getting them to understand that they may need some more help, or now is the time to start thinking about a transition, we have found incredibly difficult.

Matt Del Vecchio 4:55

It’s probably the number one issue. It’s having those tough conversations because they’re not comfortable conversations but it’s very clear to you that something needs to be done. So starting a conversation is always best. Try to be as proactive as possible. Even before you do see a decline have just open conversations at the dinner table. Try not to be reactive. 30% of my business is reactive – getting a panicked call from a daughter or son that Mom or Dad is in the hospital and the doctor said, “They can’t go back home. You need to find something now.” We want to try and avoid those situations as much as possible so keep the lines of communication as open, as honest, as transparent as possible, despite it being difficult conversations. And also look for trigger events that could start conversations. I’ll give you an examples.

We talked about the bathroom and slips and falls. We’ve run into situations where mom and dad are hiding slips and falls because they know deep down that “I need to be careful here.” But if there’s an incident of a slip and fall – god forbid they had to go in an ambulance and to the hospital – that’s a trigger event to start a conversation.

Sarah Widmeyer 6:04

I’m going to interrupt you there because what you just said rings so true with what we’ve dealt with with Mom and Dad. They have been covering up for one another. And it’s amazing how they are “Oh your mom’s fine, she’s just forgotten a word.” “Oh your dad’s fine, he can get up the stairs. He cleaned the bathroom today.” It’s amazing how much they do cover and compensate for one another.

Matt Del Vecchio 6:32

It is amazing and quite frankly it’s a natural human nature reaction. We’re going to be like that too, Sarah. But the reality is, this is where adult children have to be that proactive role. So these trigger events are important.

Another one we mentioned: forgetting to pay bills. You might have seen a credit card bill that hasn’t been paid for two months – what’s going on? They’re forgetting a doctor’s appointment. These are little trigger events.

Not eating well is one. As mentioned, take a look in the fridge and the cupboards. They’ll always say they’re eating well. Next thing you know you’re starting to bring more meals over. That’s one.

And a popular trigger event, like we call it, would be a neighbor or a family friend actually transitioned already. And they tend to sometimes rely a little bit more on third party people, like friends, family, doctors, more than their children. So look for those trigger events. Maybe you could use those situations “Hey, Sue down the street went into a senior living community and she’s actually loving it.” That’s a communication starter.

License. Taking away the license is another trigger event. Very, very tough. But another reason to have some conversations. You’re in a suburb, you’re in a home – it’s getting a lot more difficult to get around. And that would at least help saying “Mom there are other alternatives for you.”

Sarah Widmeyer 7:55

You know it’s interesting, what I have found with my mom is that she has vilified retirement living. “You’re not going to put me there. You’re not going to sell the house. You’re not going to put me there. People go there to die.” Which is really interesting. I don’t know where she got that idea. But, as you know, we lost my dad in May, and so mom is now alone. You would think this would be a trigger event and she would be interested in starting to look at retirement homes, but no. We’ve talked about the fact that the cat can come. It’s not just going to be one room and a bathroom. There are apartments available. There are kitchens. And lots of healthy active and participating older adults go into these retirement homes. It’s just not for the aged and, as my mom would say, “going there to die.”

So how do you open up that door? How do you start to introduce the whole concept of retirement living. Honestly Matt, I’d go there right now. I think it sounds pretty darn good. You’ve got a pool, you’ve got a spa, you’ve got someone to walk the dog if you want. Sounds glorious!

Matt Del Vecchio 9:17

And the feelings of Mom are very natural, again. Why? There’s a stigma about residences, retirement homes. People born in their twenties, thirties, even fourties – they think of retirement homes as nursing homes: it’s just very old people in wheelchairs staring out a window. The senior living communities – and we purposely use some wording like this as opposed to retirement homes just to get away from that stigma – that industry is absolutely booming. The challenge now is how do we convince and show Mom it’s not so bad. I was on a tour just last week with a 93-year-old and she walked out saying “Not for me! Only old people live here.” Good on her.

Sarah Widmeyer 10:03

God bless her.

Matt Del Vecchio 10:04

God bless her is right! She’s a survivor. But it’s the stigma.

What we try to do, and very often when we’re talking to adult children, we have adult children, we sit down with them first – even before Mom and Dad – to educate the adult children about what’s out there now. And like you said, some of them are unbelievable. What’s good about it – it’s a very competitive industry, they’re popping up, retirement residences, left and right. Inventory is going up. They’re trying to fight for clients’ business. As a result, services are getting better, rooms are getting fancier, more amenities. Who’s going to win? It’s going to be the client.

But from a Mom perspective, they still have that visual of that nursing home. We’ll always try to take the children on a few tours so they can see what it’s all about because you know Mom and Dad best. From there, you could probably narrow it down to a couple that you’d have confidence in showing mom.

What to look for? First and foremost, we don’t want to get carried away with all the fancy bells and whistles – that’s important. Start with care requirements for Mom and/or Dad. Not just today, but for tomorrow. And that’s important. There are independent living retirement residences, but as soon as you need some care or assisted living, they as you to leave. So if you have a situation where you know care is going to be required in a year, or two or three years, you don’t want Mom or Dad moving again. Make sure they have the proper care requirements for today and the future.

Culture and atmosphere two key factors. Make sure they can fit in to that environment. Very often they’ll say “I met a neighbour.” Or, “I met a friend.” They’ll fit in. Take advantage of complimentary meals. Usually there’s a complimentary lunch for the family. Two things happen there: You’ll be able to test the food – that’s very important. But two, you’re going to see the environment that they’re in. They’re going to see the people coming for lunch or supper. And that’s a good way of seeing “yeah, I see myself in this type of environment.”

Meals are important, you mentioned. Many retirement residences have all meals included. But there are families and couples that say “I still want to cook my meal. Maybe I’ll go for supper, but lunch and breakfast – I’m not going to get up at 8 in the morning, I don’t want to dress and change – I want to do my own breakfast or brunch, on my own.” Make sure there’s a little kitchenette or a full kitchen – you want to look into that.

Geography is important. Not necessarily to be closer to the kids – remember Mom and Dad are there 24/7, the kids aren’t there 24/7. So geography’s important.

And, probably the biggest one, we all talk about budget – can we afford it? And that’s probably the number one question we get all the time. Most of the time people think they can’t afford senior retirement community. They hear about rents and – “How can I afford this.” This is where the value of a financial advisor comes in to play, where they could do financial projections. Do it for one year, five years, twenty years. So often people think they’re going to run out of money. But a financial advisor can come into play and say, “You know what, you’re good for this amount of years.” And explain things like, “You know what, you realize you have no more property taxes to pay. There’s no more house home improvements to pay, utilities and all that to pay.” So it becomes a bit more reasonable. So bring in someone third party that could help explain that, “You know, you’re going to be okay. And not to worry that you’re going to run out of money.”

Sarah Widmeyer 13:30

On that point, Matt, do you have any idea – I’m sure you do. Can you share with us the range of what a monthly expense might be, in terms of retirement living. Is it $2000 a month? Is it $1000 a month? I know it can vary depending on what you want. But what would be a good estimate for an average comfortable retirement living experience?

Matt Del Vecchio 13:55

I get that question all the time, and it really does vary. And I don’t want to give a grey answer, but unfortunately the answer is a little grey. I’ll explain why.

What drives up the cost in retirement living? First and foremost, the size of the apartment or the suite. Are you in a two bedroom? Are you in a one bedroom? Or maybe you just need a little studio where I don’t need it. Do you want meals? Do I have to build in three meals a day? If you do obviously it’s going to be more expensive. Then the others like utilities – those are usually included – but the two biggies is size of the apartment, the meals, and of course, the third one being care.

Do you need any care requirements? Do you need assistance with bathing? Maybe it’s some assisted living – you might need some assistance with dressing. That’s labour intensive. It’s going to drive up the cost.

So to go back to your original question, you can get into independent living with a kitchen, cooking your own meals, probably in the range of the low $2000’s I would say. And of course, it varies across the country. GTA being more expensive than, and Vancouver being more expensive than because of real estate. But once you start adding meals – typically it’s $300-$500 for a meal per month. You add on three meals, then all of sudden you’ve just added $1200-$1500 to your monthly expense and now you’re up in the $3000-$4000 range. Add care and then you can start to go up. So it can add up that’s why it’s important to sit down.

By the way when you go on tours at retirement communities they will sit down with you and give you an exact quote with anything a la carte or all in based on your needs so you can go back with your family with your financial adviser to say okay this is what it’s going to cost over a period of time. We have a lot of families, though, especially in in the big cities where their home value has appreciated so much over the 20, 30, 40 years. That’s a big asset now that they can tap into and then you start to realize, “I could live a pretty good life in the senior community tapping into that asset that’s probably been paid for.”

Sarah Widmeyer 16:00

You know, it’s really interesting – I’ve been in this industry for a few a few years now and I’ve becoming increasingly focused and interested in the connection between health and wealth. Having our health in our older years is so critical. But one of the really interesting things is, particularly with women, is not how much money I have it’s what the money can do for me.

I’m living it in technicolor with my mom right now because I can add up the zeros and show her the amount of money that she has, but she has a real primal fear about running out of her money. Mom and Dad – really, I’m ashamed to say it’s the shoemaker’s kids – Mom and Dad didn’t have a financial plan. They didn’t do that, so now as she is facing life alone right now without Dad.

They were married 60 years. She’s lost her primary helper in making decisions so my brother and I have become that. We’re getting five-six phone calls a day and usually it’s about money. And the equation for women, in particular, of being able to relate the pile of money to what it can do for me in my declining years is so critical.

And I think as financial advisors if there’s one thing that we can do really well that clients need as they age – not when they’re old but as they’re aging – to understand the cost of all of these things and how to plan for that so that they’re rest assured while their cognitive abilities are still really, really strong that you lay the foundation of “I’m okay,” and “I’m going to be okay.” That’s what we’re trying to do now with Mom, who unfortunately does have cognitive decline and it’s become emotional. It’s really emotional for her. The money and this primal fear that she’s going run out. And she won’t run out unless she lives in the Taj Mahal for the next 32 years, which she won’t. She’s going to be fine.

But it but it doesn’t resonate. She’s not comprehending it in a in a primal way.

Matt Del Vecchio 18:27

Yeah, and very common. Very common what you’re talking about. There’s two issues there: One mom’s experiencing cognitive decline so it may be difficult to reason and listening to you. So that’s specific to cognitive decline. But it’s actually there’s a much bigger umbrella, if you will, in terms of parents not wanting to spend their money. If, particularly for women, maybe there’s their husband has passed away. Let’s face it – again, though I don’t know when your Mom was born: ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s, if it’s in that era I’m assuming…

Sarah Widmeyer 18:57

Yeah, thirties.

Matt Del Vecchio 18:58


Sarah Widmeyer 18:58

Yeah, thirties.

Matt Del Vecchio 18:59

Let’s face it, the man was usually responsible for finances. So, no fault of your Mom, it’s just the reality of growing up in the 30s and 40s and came coming from nothing. You know, you’re talking great depression, World War II. They’re a generation of savers. They don’t want to spend their money even if they have it – number one issue we deal with, with adult children. So again, open communication; try to have those conversations earlier. And it’s role reversal. Sometimes we use the line, “Mom you’ve always wanted what’s best for me. You want to leave an inheritance. We get it. But if you truly want what’s best for me, Mom, take care of yourself. It’s okay to spend the money on yourself.”

Very difficult conversation because they don’t spend on themselves and it’s time that you have to give them the opportunity to say, “Yes, you know what, maybe I do deserve a little bit to take myself.” And then if we start talking about safety, security and some of the warning signs we’ve added to it, let them know it’s okay to spend their money.

Sarah Widmeyer 20:02

It is so true what you’re saying. One of the other things we’re noticing is the large amount of money that Mom has in cash. So, it’s not invested. And the cash, Matt, I swear to god if she moves tomorrow we have to go through that house for a month looking underneath rugs, underneath, inside of bibles, behind in an old ice cream tub at the back of a cupboard – sorry mom I’m telling your hiding place. But money is everywhere in that house. And it’s amazing – the sense of not trusting banks and investments because “I’ll lose my money and I have to have the cash on hand and I can’t spend the cash on hand.”

Matt Del Vecchio 20:52

And that’s it – it’s to trust. Western Europeans – Delvecchio, the Italians – when Papa Joe and Nana Susie passed away same thing, Sarah, we were finding cash hidden away, and it’s because they didn’t trust the financial institutions. It’s that generation. But you’re right – downsizing is a big part of what we do as well. You can’t believe some of the surprises we see when we’re downsizing.

Sarah Widmeyer 20:02

Matt I want to thank you for the conversation today. It’s been very helpful for me again, as you know, I’ve been living the sandwich generation. I have two teenage daughters at home and parents – now sadly only one parent – but have been juggling, you know, two parents who probably should have downsized and transitioned years ago. It certainly would have made it a lot easier for us now with Mom. And frankly, it’s not about us it’s about Mom. It would have made it tremendously more easy, and I think comforting; and from a security perspective, she would she would have been resting a lot more easily, sooner if we transitioned them a couple of years ago.

So I want to say thank you. Thank you for the conversation any last thoughts that you’d like to share with us?

Matt Del Vecchio 22:17

First of all, thank you for having me and very welcome for being here. And what I would say to you Sarah is, I say to a lot of our clients, you can’t beat yourself up. People always look back, “I should have started earlier, I should have done this.” Almost everyone says that. Those are still very difficult conversations to have with your parents, so all we can suggest is just try to get those conversations started sooner rather than later. Be proactive.

Sarah Widmeyer 22:47

Persistence – persistence is key.

So I’d like to thank our special guest Matt Delvecchio for joining us and lending his expertise on this important topic.

If you’d like to learn more about how we at Richardson GMP can help you navigate through this transition you can visit our website at You can also follow Richardson GMP on LinkedIn for a broad range of information on many planning topics.

Thank you all for listening to us on this inaugural episode of Conversations on Wealth. Be sure to join us next time when we shift gears and offer tips on how you can plan for your own future.