Perspectives on aging: Part 2

Sarah Widmeyer is joined once more by Matt Del Vecchio, a Certified Professional Consultant on aging and a life-transition specialist and founder of the specialist company Lianas. Continuing their discussion on aging Canadians, Sarah and Matt emphasize the connection between health and wealth, and the importance of making key decisions earlier when you’re considering transitioning from your current home.

Sarah Widmeyer 00:50

Welcome to conversations on wealth hosted by Richardson GMP. A podcast dedicated to helping Canadians navigate the complexities of your wealth with a multi-dimensional approach to planning and wealth management.

My name is Sarah Widmeyer and I’m Director of Wealth Strategies at Richardson GMP and this week we are continuing our conversation on aging. It’s difficult to think about not being able to take care of yourself but it’s inevitable for many of us. And that’s why it’s absolutely critical to make key decisions while you’re still healthy and able.

Joining me today is Matt Del Vecchio. He is a certified professional consultant on aging, a life transition specialist, and he’s owner of Lianas, senior transition support. Welcome, Matt.

Matt Del Vecchio 01:40

Hi, Sarah. Thanks for having me.

Sarah Widmeyer 01:43

So Matt, healthy aging is something we all strive for in order to remain independent for the longest time, but it doesn’t just happen. It takes some careful long-term planning. Matt, what’s your number one tip for planning ahead?

Matt Del Vecchio 01:59

I would say, Sarah, trying to be as proactive and embracing — accepting the aging process is really key.

Sarah Widmeyer 02:08

Says the man in the room.

Matt Del Vecchio 02:09

Easier said than done.

You know, we’re all living more vibrant lives — everyone’s living longer due to better health, better living, better medication — so we tend to think we’re a little more invincible than we were. However, if it becomes too invincible then we get into a little bit of denial and resistance, and once that kicks in then you’re putting yourself at risk in the decision-making process. So, I would have to say be proactive, be realistic, and embrace that aging process. There are times and situations in our world, Sarah, is where you’re not proactive and it’s reactive, and someone else is making decisions for you — a doctor, someone saying you can’t go back home. This is way too late; this is crisis mode; we want to try to avoid that as much as possible. Put yourself in a position so that you’re in control.

Sarah Widmeyer 03:04

Yeah, it’s… When you were… when you’re talking about the someone says you can’t go home… You know my father had fought prostate cancer for 9 years before he passed in May, and again they were, my parents were so careful to protect each other from us, the kids, on what was actually happening at home, and dad was struggling getting upstairs. He was struggling getting up two three four times in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. It would have been so much more helpful for us to understand that the wheels were falling off the little red wagon, that they needed help. And, in fact, for my dad that trigger event did happen. He had broken his hip and couldn’t go home because mom was not equipped to be the caregiver, so we had to put him in a retirement home where he could get that caregiving help before the hip replacement operation could be done. He had to wait about a month to get that hip replaced. And, it just, you know, looking back and reflecting it would have been so much more helpful and easier for them and for us if we had been, they had been, proactive and we’d started to have those honest conversations as opposed to everything’s fine, everything’s fine, everything’s fine. When sadly, it wasn’t.

Matt Del Vecchio 04:39

Yeah. And, those are tough conversations. It’s easier said than done by being proactive. However, there’s always merit in perhaps looking at your options, and may start with home care. You may get some assistance from a government – LHIN in Ontario, CLSC in Quebec – and you may up that to some private homecare. But, at a certain point in time you need to be realistic and it becomes too much, and you may have to start looking for a retirement community, a retirement residence, but there’s a stigma.

Sarah Widmeyer 05:07

Yes. There is a stigma.

Matt Del Vecchio 05:10

Yes, and it’s a terrible stigma…

Sarah Widmeyer 05:11

It is.

Matt Del Vecchio 05:12

Because seniors tend to think of it as being a terrible place that’s the last place, go before I die, only old people are there. But the senior living communities are just booming. That industry is very very competitive and as a result there’s so many more options. And, it’s not just nursing homes now, which would be the heavier latter stages of life. We’re talking in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, living a vibrant life in some incredible senior communities. We’ve got to try to get rid of that stigma though, and it takes time.

Sarah Widmeyer 05:46

It’s… It is so important.

The waiting lists, you know, there are waiting lists on these retirement homes and one of the things that we’re trying to do with my mom is — now that she’s sadly lost her license, the doctor took the license away, she’s a little bit more, a lot more, dependent on us to go to the grocery store, the doctors — so we’re starting to take circuitous routes to the grocery store, and starting to drive by retirement homes, starting to drive by, you know, some of these communities, and it’s like, “oh look over there, look what’s over there, oh doesn’t that look, oh what is that, Mom? Do you know what that is?” So, it’s a little bit sneaky I guess but it is starting to do the trick.

In fact, I was told a couple nights ago that my mom agreed to go on a tour of one of the retirement communities and I was talking to her just last night and giving her encouragement and you know I kind of said in an offhand way, “Mom, you know there’s waiting lists, people want to get in there”, I said, “maybe just put your name down on the list, it doesn’t mean you have to take it if your name comes up. If you’re not ready to go you can say go to the next person on the list and you know take it when you’re ready, but at least get your place in line.”

Matt Del Vecchio 07:09

And you’re putting yourself in a position of control. And good on you for — we would call these trigger events — driving around and you see a retirement home. And, we’re not talking the public system, there are also long waiting lists in public nursing homes. But there are waiting lists in the private sector, the level below nursing homes, and this is exactly what you’re talking about. So, when you are able to be proactive, take a look. We’re always suggesting get your name on the waiting lists because, worst case scenario, is you’re getting a call saying, “are you ready?” “No but keep me on the waiting list. We’ll be ready, call us later at a later date.” So, you’re being proactive and you’re putting yourself in a position that maybe this might be the right place for me in the future.

Sarah Widmeyer 07:50

So, what are some of the important questions that you should ask your new potential residence provider? I know, for example, my mom has a cat, and I can’t imagine, and she certainly cannot imagine moving anywhere without that cat. And I was pleased to find out that a lot of these retirement villages and homes and communities allow for pets.

Matt Del Vecchio 08:11

Yeah, its interesting you say that. It’s a very common question we get, pet-friendly retirement communities. Cats are considered a good pet, dogs also. We get into some challenges with weight restrictions in some retirement communities, typically its 10-15 pounds or less.

Sarah Widmeyer 08:30

So they don’t want the big dogs.

Matt Del Vecchio 08:31

You don’t want the big dog; very rarely will they be accepted. There are retirement communities that simply won’t accept pets at all. So, if this is one of the criteria, pet-friendly, we put that on the list. But, Sarah, I’m going to have you put a couple of other things on the priority level. Pets in some cases are deal breakers — don’t even talk to me if I can’t bring my cat. Okay, that’s on the list.

But care requirements are first and foremost. Mom, does she need any care today? If not, great. Will she need care in the future? The answer to that is probably yes, so you want to be able to see residences that are not just strictly independent living. We have to assume that over time the aging process will require more care. So, find out what type of care services are offered.

The next big one is culture and environment. Does mom or dad, couples… is this the culture and environment that they see themselves in. Do they fit into that, are they talking their language? I mean there’s religious reasons as well. Are there other people their age is common scenarios? And, also — we suggest — have a meal. Usually there’s complimentary meals, so have a lunch there. Not only will you be able to taste the food, but you’re going to be able to check out the environment, check out the people that are living in that environment. Do you see yourself there?

So, those are important things. Other things: shuttle services, amenities, do we go to the grocery store? Are there doctors’ visits? Is there a nurse on call? Is there a doctor that comes in? So, this is all important questions we need to be asking. Last, first, we have to talk about safety and security as well. Are there sprinkler systems in place? What’s the evacuation policy? What’s the staff to resident ratio? And, when you ask that question make sure you say, “okay, does that include the cooks and the waiters and waitresses?” What you need to know is the staff to resident ratio from a care perspective. How many nurses? How many PSWs? How many people are there to support Mom or Dad?

Sarah Widmeyer 10:25

That’s great. And you know with cognitive decline, sadly, it is primarily a woman’s disease. What we have found with mom is the socialization is so important to keeping her mind active and her use of words, her language, keeping it as good as it possibly can be. And so, one of the primary benefits that I see and when I think about that list of priorities that we’re starting to put together for mom in terms of where she might go is are there organized events like bridge, card playing, things that interest her. Mom loves to swim, so somewhere where there’s a pool. And it’s amazing that all of these things are available, and I think you’ve said in the past that as there are more and more retirement communities being built there’s competition. And so, they’re getting better in terms of the amenities and what they offer.

Matt Del Vecchio 11:36

And we always ask during tourism: can we talk to the activity director? Generally, you’re speaking to bridge club, bingo, swimming, the answer is usually, “I’m not going to participate in any of that.” Okay, we get a lot of that. By talking to the activity director, find out what activities are there. What is their process to get their residence involved? No one’s going to force you, that’s one of the benefits of senior residence. You talked about socialization, but if you want to just camp out in your room and watch tv all day, you’re allowed. You know, no one’s going to force you. But, it’s proven, both physically and cognitive stimulation with activities, it will be better for your long-term health. So, what is the process to get residents slightly more involved in some of these activities? Before you know it — 2, 3, 4 months —usually they’re involved in many of those activities.

Sarah Widmeyer 12:25

Yeah. Ok, so let’s talk about downsizing. This is starting to become front and center for us. It seems every time I go home Mom is trying to give me something to take back home with me, right now it’s the silverware, “take the silver.” I don’t want the silver. It’s — “what do you like in my china cabinet? Take it” — which I suppose is a good sign because it says that she’s ready to start shedding some of this stuff, but I think about the dining room furniture, I think about the chandeliers, that cost a huge amount of money. They were so proud of them. I don’t want them. Help. Help Matt what do we do?

Matt Del Vecchio 13:18

Very common. And, quite frankly, its quite insulting to mom or dad that you don’t want to take her sterling silverware that has to be polished every month. They paid a fortune for them and odds are they probably came for nothing. They paid a fortune for their bedroom set, their dining room set, that may not fit into where they’re going to. So, it’s emotional. So, downsizing is a very difficult process.

Just the fact though that you’re talking about it is actually very good because they’re thinking about it. You know we talk about the advantage or the benefit of a financial advisor when, okay, maybe it makes sense that we can sell the family home now, maybe it makes sense that we can go into senior community. Your financial advisor has sat down with mom, gone over the financial projections. You know what, you’re not going to run out of money because mom or dad are savers. They don’t spend money and they need that confidence usually from a third party to say, “okay you can do this.”

Then you have the conversation about downsizing. Sometimes it becomes so overwhelming that they back up and they say, “forget it, we’re just going to stay at home”, and now they have to navigate those stairs again and they’ve been having some issues. So, we always start with why less is more. Yes, start early to be able to get rid of those items that may not fit in or may not go with you. We say less is more because it’s also going to help with the value of your home. Eventually you’re going to have to stage it. Eventually there’s going to be people looking at your home and they don’t want to see clutter, so there’s a double benefit. You’re clearing out items and it’s also going to increase value to your home. Start as early as possible. We talk about the 6-month rule. If you haven’t used something in 6 months, and I’m not talking winter tires or winter coats — we’re in Canada after all. If you haven’t used something in 6 months, why are you keeping it?

Sarah Widmeyer 15:05

That’s a tough one, Matt. That’s a tough one.

Matt Del Vecchio 15:07

It is. So, one way to help with that is start one room at a time. When you start one room at a time, it’s not as overwhelming. we always say have three piles. The ‘yes, I’m keeping’, the ‘maybe, I’m not sure’, and the ‘no pile, were going to get rid of that’. Once that no pile is established, do not leave the room without taking the no pile because what’s going to happen you’re going to have a tear of coffee and you’re going to go back to the room and, well, maybe that no pile starts to move to the maybe pile and you’re back at square one. So, always with that no pile, that’s it.

Now, what do you do with it? Big question we get. First and foremost: family — and it doesn’t have to be direct family — it can be extended family, it could be neighbours. That silverware example, there may be someone that will want to take it even though you might not want to take it. Start with family. After that, is there the possibility of an estate sale? Again, very emotional, “why don’t you want my silver, I spent a fortune on it.” There are some estate sale people who will sell that for you. Unfortunately, you’re going to get 20/30 cents on the dollar if that these days. So that’s hard on the psyche because they’ve spent thousands of dollars on these things, but that’s a way of getting some revenue. A good way to get rid of the junk is through garage sales. You’re not going to make a fortune on it, but it gets rid of a lot of stuff. And, what’s becoming more and more popular— this is the Marie Kondo effect — donations and downsizing. You don’t want the silverware, or you might not want that big hutch or the big bedroom set, but there may be an immigrant family that just arrived in Canada that would absolutely love that.

Sarah Widmeyer 16:45

Oh, That’s a wonderful idea.

Matt Del Vecchio 16:45

Moms and Dads are donating more and more because there’s an extension of their hard-earned dollars that’s going to a family. So, donations are becoming more and more popular. After all that — family, estate sales, garage sales, donations — and you still haven’t gotten rid of it, you’ve got to throw it out. Discard it, 1-800-GOT-JUNK or what have you, and you throw it out.

Sarah Widmeyer 17:07

I’d have to move her out before I ever attempted to do that, I’d find myself in the bin.

Matt Del Vecchio 17:16

Interesting you say that, Sarah. We’ve had a lot of situations where families have, you know, mom or dad moved, and they said, “you know what, it’s going to be too emotional to see stuff being thrown out. Let me get in, settled into my new place. You take care of that because I don’t want to see something being thrown out.” And that’s common. If that is a process that helps with the downsizing effect, then it makes a lot of sense.

Sarah Widmeyer 17:39

Yeah. My parents, my dad, it was a very traditional family. Dad was the wage earner, and mom was the homemaker. And so there’s a lot of emotion tied up in the things that she’s cared for acquired, chosen, placed. I say it kiddingly that I’d have to move her out, but I really do think that that would have to be, in the end, the strategy is that we would have to find mom a place and then get to the house in terms of downsizing.

Matt Del Vecchio 18:15

That’s very common. People think it’s the other way around — I got to sell the house and then we could move. It works so much more efficiently finding the right community, moving, give yourself a few months to move out. And, all those awards, those memories, that are hard to get rid of, there’s a big trend believe it or not, Sarah, in digitizing these memories. In other words, these boxes you have in the basement they’re not all going to fit in. So, we’re seeing a trend in actually taking video and pictures and these little digital albums for Mom and Dad. So, they’ll still have those memories in picture format, but the big bulky stuff is no longer there so were seeing one way of bridging that gap.

Sarah Widmeyer 18:53

Isn’t that interesting. Yeah. So, again, you know a little bit about my personal story, and transition has happened as a result, I would say, of physical impairment. Which is not a happy way of doing it. Hindsight being 20/20 it would have been so much better and easier to have had these transition conversations before health events forced us in a direction. But that being said, as we, a lot of people in my, in your age bracket, are dealing with parents and teenage kids at the same time, and as we think about ourselves and as we think about our parents the connection between health and wealth is very very real. Because if you don’t have your health it doesn’t matter how much money you have, you can’t enjoy it. And so we are, I think, more physically active than our parents were, I think we are more aware of, you know we’re all wearing Fitbits or some equivalent of that. How, what would be your advice in terms of prolonging your health and wellbeing and being able to enjoy a very good standard of living for as long as possible?

Matt Del Vecchio 20:29

And it’s so true. And we are living longer, we’re living healthier. We’ve mentioned before, medication is also extending life spans, but it’s just not going to happen by sitting around. And, So, we always try to promote health and wellbeing. Why? Well because, little examples, your father had a slip and a fall. He was, he had prostate cancer, and this was the focus of your family. At the end of the day it was a slip and a fall that really was disruptive.

Sarah Widmeyer 20:59

It’s true.

Matt Del Vecchio 21:00

And, slips and falls are going to happen no matter what, but one of the reasons for trying to stay physically fit is because its gong to improve balance. With improved balance and stability, you’re going to reduce the possibility of slips and falls. So, the government of Canada recommends just 2 and half hours of moderate to vigorous intensity exercises per week. With a minimum of 10-minute increments. So, what do we mean by that? It could be as simple as walking, if you’re able to bike, great — you mentioned mom likes swimming — swimming is good as well. Great, by the way, for those with arthritis, osteoporosis, really works the joints. But any form of activity— take the stairs if you’re able to when you can. So, try to get in those 2 and a half hours a week if you can because not only will it help you physically, but it will also help you cognitively. It’s proven. If you’re in physical shape it will improve your cognitive state as well. And in terms of the cognitive, you know, we get a lot of questions about, “great I’m doing my things for physical but what can I do to improve my cognitive shape?” Big part of it: social, social, social.

Sarah Widmeyer 22:07

Yeah. It’s so true.

Matt Del Vecchio 22:08

Try to stay as social as possible. And that could be just with family, it could be with friends, volunteer, get out, and social is the number one reason to help your cognitive stimulation. And then of course you get some of the mind games, and your sudokus and crosswords, but what it is is keeping the brain active in whatever you like.

Sarah Widmeyer 22:28

They say with brain decline that what’s good for your heart is good for your brain. So, sleeping well, getting those 8 hours and a lot of elderly find it difficult to sleep. They seem to go to bed earlier and wake up really early. Sleep apnea, there is a connection between sleep apnea and cognitive decline. You know, So look after yourself. I know, again, another slightly personal story, sorry to my husband in advance, but, you know, he has sleep apnea and he didn’t want to wear the big contraption over his nose and his mouth at night to go to sleep. He was worried about the stigma of it, he was worried about the perception of it, that it could be connected to “oh, he’s getting old”, but wow what a good night sleep does for a brain and your mental sharpness and acuity. There really is a connection between sleep and brain function.

Matt Del Vecchio 23:39

Sleep and brain function, absolutely. Again, slips and falls, you’re sleepy. There’s a big argument going against sleeping pills, and this is going to be one of the big topics in the next few years. They’re prescribed by doctors, sleeping pills, but unfortunately the negative effect is you become drowsy and you’re getting up in the middle of the night going to the washroom — many slips and falls are happening because of that. So, they’re challenging sleeping pills on making you groggy. So, the general topic of sleep, absolutely crucial, you want to get good sleep, which is going to help your overall physical and cognitive wellbeing.

Sarah Widmeyer 24:13

Fascinating. So, Matt I would again like to thank you so much for joining me today to talk about this important issue of seniors and transitioning and helping our seniors, our parents, transition to retirement homes. You know I’ve been living this very close and dearly in my own life and through my experiences I hope to help others in terms of having these conversations, being proactive, starting early, planning. Planning while money hasn’t become so emotional and so emotionally tied to your safety and security in your old age planning, certainly getting to planning in your 30s, 40s, 50s, revisiting it. It’s really really crucial. Any last thoughts, Matt?

Matt Del Vecchio 25:13

I think the most important thing is all of us need to recognize that the aging process is natural and normal. Lets accept it, lets embrace it. We’re living vibrant lives but deal with some of these very important issues up front because theyre sensitive topics and we want to avoid and resist, so let’s not be afraid to have these conversations. It’s only going to be beneficial to you and you’re loved ones.

Sarah Widmeyer 25:41

So thank you again to our special guest, Matt del Vecchio, for joining us today. Its been wonderful. It’s been a real treat to have you.

Matt Del Vecchio 25:48

Thank you for having me, Sarah.

Sarah Widmeyer 25:49

If you’d like to learn more about how Richardson GMP can help you navigate this life transition, you can visit our website at You can also follow Richardson GMP on Linkedin for a wealth of information on many planning topics. Thank you all for joining us on Conversations on Wealth. We hope this discussion has been helpful to you, to help you make important decisions for yourself and your family. Be sure to listen to upcoming episodes to help you unlock and protect your wealth building potential.