Written by ajdnqp93 on November 15, 2017 in

Our Guest: Andrea Gallagher

About This Episode

With the average individual’s lifespan now approaching 90 years, myriad challenges and dilemmas arise, but seemingly few answers: “What if I outlive my money?”, “What if something happens to my health?”, “Where do I go?”, “What do I do?”. In this compassionate yet candid discussion, aging and longevity pioneer Andrea Gallagher provides a wealth of guidance for those who need care and those who provide it. Andrea’s wisdom stems from hands-on experience with the needs of her own family members as well as a pair of dear neighbors who inspired her to embark on a new career providing advice and resources for caregivers and care-receivers alike — roles that most all of us are destined to take on sometime during our lives.

5 Things You’ll Learn

  1. How “helping” can unintentionally disempower
  2. Golden Rule vs. Platinum Rule: Treating others the way they wish to be treated
  3. Anticipating probabilities and embracing possibilities
  4. Building resilience and coping mechanisms to retain control of your own life
  5. Pro-actively forming creative, practical solutions to problems before they arise

Transcript

Announcer:

Welcome to our podcast called Love, Longevity, where we help you to live longer better. Our host, Michael FitzPatrick, Founder and CEO of the Long Term Living Association, otherwise known as the LTLA, interviews thought leaders, innovators, and experts across the country on a variety of issues related to aging and longevity, finances, legal, legacy and philanthropy, health and wellness, relationships and family, housing and transition, caregiving, and more. The goal of the LTLA and this podcast is to change the paradigm as to how seniors and their families view and plan for aging and longevity issues. Now, join us as we welcome today’s very special guest on this episode of Love, Longevity.

Michael:

Okay, welcome, everybody. My name is Michael FitzPatrick, your host here for our podcast series called Love, Longevity, and we have a special guest for you today by the name of Andrea Gallagher. We found Andrea’s information as somebody who has not only pioneered a lot of different things in the aging and longevity industry, but she does it with a tremendous amount of passion and compassion and just has some wonderful, wonderful stories to share with us about her journey.

The goal, like always with Love, Longevity podcast, is to really bring some information, education, inspiration to people who are venturing into the second half of their lives. From 25 years old to 60 years old is phase one, many facets of our work, economically, our life, our work, careers, family, etc., but from 60 and beyond, we really do enter into a different realm. A whole different game is being played, and a number of people across the country have similar concerns about outliving their money, for example, something happening to their health, where do we go, what do we do?

Quite honestly, the reason that this entire podcast series was created was to find people who kind of have the boots in the streets. They’re the ones that are doing the work day in and day out to help shift the paradigm and change the way people are dealing with some of these issues that we and our families are going through and will go through down the road. Maybe you’ve heard the quote by former first lady, Rosalind Carter, that says, “There’s four kinds of people in the world. There’s those that have been caregivers, there’s those that are caregiver, there’s those that will be caregivers, and there’s those of us that will need caregivers.” We all fall into this group together, and so I think that, as a society, we are all responsible and dealing with this issue collectively.

Without further ado, we have a person on this call today, and she is – like I said before, she is a tireless pioneer in helping seniors and aging issues and whatnot, and just by way of introduction, let me make sure that I can hear you okay and that we’re on a good audio connection here. Andrea, can you hear me okay?

Andrea:

I can, Michael.

Michael:

Okay, fantastic, so let me give the listeners a little backdrop by way of your bio so they know who you are, for those that don’t know you, and then I’ll have you humanize this as well and give us some stories from your personal side. Your bio is extremely impressive, and it’s really why we want you on this call as a guest, because I think you have so much wisdom to share with just people in general about these issues.

Andrea is presently the president of Senior Concerns, and she’s a Certified Senior Advisor, CSA, and the creator of The Cards I’ve Been Dealt. Andrea is a member and past president of the Life Planning Network, and she served as Life Transitions Chair of the International Conference on Positive Aging, which I love that name. The International Conference on Positive Aging. Andrea is the creator of the distinguished speaker series, Boomer Bootcamp. She is an editor and a chapter contributor to Live Smart After 50: An Expert’s Guide to Life Planning for Uncertain Times and the author of The Other Side of 50, a bimonthly newspaper column, which is housed on her blog, www.rethinkingyourfuture.com. Andrea is a national speaker on topics related to life planning, positive aging, and boomer transitions, and the title of her talk today in this podcast is Rethinking Your Future.

Welcome, Andrea Gallagher. We’re so delighted to have you. Maybe just give us a little backstory. Where’d you grow up? A little about yourself, your family, some things that you enjoy doing in your spare time. Let the audience hear who are you on that personal level.

Andrea:

Thank you. You may hear this in my voice if I get going, but I grew up in New England, in New Hampshire specifically, with two sisters, and my mom currently and dad are still there in New Hampshire. My mom is 83, my dad is 85, and my mom is full-time caregiver for my dad, who is in end-stage Parkinson’s. I’ve been married to a great guy for the last 25 years, and we weren’t blessed with kids. We do have a rescue cocker spaniel. I spent 25 years in Corporate America with companies like M&M/Mars, Pepsi, Dole, and I ran a market research division, and then my world changed.

One of the things I like to do in my spare time is help companies and individuals start a business. For instance, I’ve helped two people author a book, and I’m working right now with a technology company and with a web-based company on new models for serving seniors.

Michael:

Wow, so you’re living through this right now. Mom and Dad – Mom’s 82, Dad’s 85?

Andrea:

Yes.

Michael:

Eight-five, yeah, wow, and you’re going through these issues, and you’re on the other side of the country as well, over in California, and they’re in New Hampshire?

Andrea:

Yeah, the long-distance caregiver.

Michael:

You could probably write a book on –

Andrea:

My sister is right beside –

Michael:

Oh, so she’s close to them? Okay, so your next book could be on long-distance caregiving and how to deal with that. I’m sure people are going through that a lot these days. What led you to becoming or doing what you do now? Was there a turning point that drove you in this direction? What’d you before this current career that you have?

Andrea:

Yeah, so, as I mentioned, I worked for what they call consumer products, CPG, with Dole, Pepsi, and M&M/Mars, and I was running a market research firm in Chicago, so I was commuting actually from L.A. to Chicago for eight years. That was my last Corporate America job, and during that time, my husband and I moved into a new neighborhood. We fixed up our house, and we lived in a cul-de-sac.

We decided to have a come meet your neighbors party, so I put little invitations into everybody’s mailbox. The night of the event came, and I met all of our neighbors. My husband and I met all of our neighbors, but this one couple in particular were a little bit different. They were in their 80s, and Fred was wheeling Hildy in her wheelchair into our home. We got to visit with them, and they were lovely.

Maybe about a month later, we got a call from Hildy, and she said, “We’re having Fred’s birthday party, and I wondered if you’d like to come. Would you kids like to come?”, which I loved the fact she called us kids. Anyway, I said, “Sure, we’d love to come,” so I said to my husband the night, as we’re driving to the event – I said, “You know, this will be great. We’ll meet the kids and the grandkids and all their friends, and this will be lovely.” We got to the restaurant, and there at the table were Fred and Hildy, one other 80-year-old couple, and my husband and I. That’s when we realized they had no kids, they had no living relatives, and it was just themselves, taking care of each other.

That started us on a journey. We would help them hang the Christmas lights or pick up something at the grocery store, and about six months into the relationship, we received a phone call on a Saturday morning from Hildy, who said that Fred had to have some day surgery, and would we mind driving him to the hospital? We did, and it’s so funny. He was a civil engineer, and he actually built the road that we drove on, so he was telling me exactly which direction to take.

We got to the hospital, and they wheeled Fred in. Hildy and my husband, Peter, and I sat in the waiting room. About two hours later, the doctor came out, and he started to talk to Peter and I, and Hildy said, “Hey, hey, talk to me. I’m the wife,” which I thought was great. You go, girl. He said, “Unfortunately, things didn’t work out as we had hoped, and Fred’s kidneys have shut down, and he’s going to be in the hospital for at least two weeks.” We were all sort of just in a little bit of shock, but when Fred got to his intensive care room, we wheeled Hildy in, and they had a brief chat. Then, Fred called us over, and he said, “Would you mind living with Hildy for the next two weeks while I’m in the hospital?” I was commuting, my husband had a full-time job, but of course, what are you going to say? Of course I’ll do that, so I called up the CEO of my company and explained what was going on.

It was the second night. We stayed in the guest room downstairs. Hildy had a chairlift that took her up and down stairs, so we stayed in the downstairs guest room. At about 2:30 in the morning the second night, we heard the chairlift coming downstairs. We ran to the bottom of the stairs, and there’s Hildy, fully dressed, lipstick on, purse in hand. She said, “Hey, I want to take you kids out for pancakes,” and we said, “Okay, but it’s 2:30 in the morning,” and she didn’t understand. That’s when we realized that she had a level of cognitive impairment, too, that we really didn’t know about.

We ended up caring for Hildy for those two weeks, and it started us on our journey, caring for both Fred and Hildy, through Hildy’s dementia diagnosis, through Fred’s stroke, through end-of-life decisions. Peter and I cared for them for six years, and it changed my life in two ways. It showed me what it’s like to be a family caregiver, even though I wasn’t family, and it taught me that the journey can be pretty tough sometimes when you’re 80+ and trying to navigate health issues and all sorts of other things.

I told my husband at that point in time, I just really feel drawn to do something in this world for my next career, and that’s how I got into this world. I joined the Board of Senior Concerns, and five years later they asked me if I’d run the organization.

Michael:

Wow. I mean, what an incredible path you were brought on. You couldn’t have sat down and mapped that journey out if you even wanted to think how creative you could be, and that just goes to show us, sometimes in life – sometimes we have a vision, and we have a game plan, and we know what we want in certain areas, but a lot of times we get pulled into things for reasons that are beyond our comprehension. What a story and experience, and what would Hildy and Fred have done without any adult children or anybody else to help care for them? What a blessing it was for you guys to not only be there, be physically there, geographically there, but be able and willing to say yes and respond to that invitation the way you did. It really sounds like it set you on a trajectory that you hadn’t even ever considered before and a whole new career path. What an amazing story. Wow.

Andrea:

Without a doubt. I call what I’m doing right now is living Fred and Hildy’s legacy.

Michael:

That’s incredible, and I was going to ask you if there was ever a time where you sat back and thought, wow, I’m really making a difference. I think that story probably embodies that. Now, when you got into your career then, have there been multiple times throughout what you do now in the line of work that you do where you do sit back, and you say, oh, my gosh, we really are making a significant difference. Any story or anything like that jump out at you?

Andrea:

Yeah, well, first of all, Senior Concerns is a nonprofit in the community, and we do a tremendous amount of wonderful work. We’re sort of what I call the safety net 911 or 411 for everything senior and family caregiver, from an adult day program for folks with cognitive impairment to Meals on Wheels and pro bono legal, financial, and advocacy services, so lots and lots of stuff.

Actually, I think one of the times that I had a wonderful lesson that allowed me to teach this lesson to people that I touch every single day, whether it’s a senior or a family caregiver, actually did happen when I was still caring for Fred and Hildy. The most precious things we have in our lives are families, and I can remember that I always thought that we should treat people by the golden rule, so do unto others as we would want done to ourselves. Indeed, I’ve learned in this process that we really need to follow the platinum rule, and that is to treat others the way they want to be treated. What is right for me in that second half of life path might not necessarily be right for the person that I’m helping and supporting and caring for, so I try to put the focus and the shift of relationships onto understanding what somebody wants and then trying to enable them to have that experience.

Michael:

That’s fantastic. Yeah. Is there any stories that jump out at you that you remember, either a powerful story or something that was funny during your journey? Any good stories?

Andrea:

Yeah, I say one in particular, with that golden rule and the platinum rule. I remember when, early on, Fred had passed – excuse me, Hildy had passed, and Fred was still alive, and he had a caregiver, paid caregiver, that helped to support us when we needed to be places and couldn’t be with him. Every day, Fred loved to have a frappuccino from Starbucks, and so we brought him one every day. He would save the straws, those green straws, from every frappuccino, and he’d put them over by the dish drainer in the sink. I remember, in a cleaning frenzy one day, I thought, oh, my gosh, these things are filled with germs. I’m going to throw them away and buy him a box of nice straws so that if he wanted extra straws for something, he could have it, so I did.

My husband and I were out and about, and I got a call from the caregiver. She said to me, “What did you do with Fred’s straws?” I explained that I threw them away, and she said to me, “You don’t know what you did. You just disempowered this man.” I said, “What are you talking about?” She said, “He has very little control of his life, but he does have control of those straws. They’re important to him. They’re the right size. He uses them to – soups and other milkshakes and things that he makes at home, and you’ve just taken that away from him.”

At first, I thought to myself, who are you to tell me? I’ve been caring for these people for a while, but then I realized she was right. It was a lesson that I needed to learn, that I needed to back off. I needed to give Fred his space to be who he was and to allow him the things that were important to him, and that really kind of hit home for me. It was something as simple as a straw, but it really taught me that I needed to make space for – I’d want the same thing for myself, as I got older. I’d want my wishes and things to be respected.

Michael:

So interesting. What a powerful lesson. That by itself I’m sure a lot the listeners could relate to that, and the platinum rule I think is a very interesting way to think about things versus the golden rule. I mean, they’re both good rules but just a very different perspective. Tell us a little bit about the title of the podcast that we have here. You and I came up with some ideas, and you mentioned Rethinking Your Future. As an author and as a thought leader and somebody who’s created numerous programs and just so involved in this community of aging and longevity, what would you like to tell people about the topic of rethinking your future? If we took a 30,000-foot level of this issue, all these issues, and we looked back down, what are some practical, takeaway, teachable moments that you can share with people, given all your experience, on the topic of rethinking your future?

Andrea:

I think the title, to me, is both a global or certainly United States-based phenomena, as well as an individual phenomenon, so it’s societal, and it’s individual, meaning that the life of our grandparents or great-grandparents is never going to be the life we’re going to live. Those folks died at 70, retired at 65, died at 70, and didn’t outlive their money, and now we’re living so much longer. The average lifespan right now is close to 90, and in addition to that, we’re just seeing such a doubling of the senior population, a tripling of the population over the age of 80, so we’re seeing all these things happen in society. What’s good to some degree is that we’re all moving at lightning speed, so people are devising new ways to live, new technologies, new processes, new medicines, all sorts of things in order to enable people as they get older. I’d say that there’s a opportunity for us, number one, to think creatively and out of the box but start to think about those things that are possibly going to happen. I call them the possibilities and the probabilities. The possibilities are that you could have a second career or maybe a third, maybe a fourth. A possibility is that you could meet your great, great, great, great-grandchild.

Those are all great things, but there’s also some probabilities, too. Chances are, if you live long enough, you’re going to have a health condition that’s going to cause you to have to change your lifestyle in some way. In Fred’s case, for instance, he was caregiver for Hildy, and he was the transportation for the both of them. When he had a stroke, he could no longer drive, and they hadn’t thought about, well, what happens? They had the Cadillac, but who was going to drive them? Just thinking about who was going to care for them. They hadn’t thought about any of that. They were relying just on one another, so that’s one of the first things I think about it, who’s going to care for me as I get older, and who would I – it’s interesting. Just to give you an example, in my advanced directive, I don’t actually have my husband as the person making decisions for me, because he tells me, “I can’t do what you want, so you’re going to have to find somebody who will,” and that’s good, because we’ve had that conversation. That’s really important.

I would say another one is to build resilience, and what I mean by that is, all of us have highs and lows in our lives. You think about your past life, and certainly there’s been something that’s been a low, but you’ve figured out a way to bring yourself out of that trough and back up to where you’re at today. They might be coping mechanisms. They might be ways in which you work harder to make something happen or that you talk to someone or just many different ways in which you can build yourself back up to where you were. That process – you’re going to suffer some challenges or losses as you get older, and being able to be resilient in those is the thing that’s going to make you be happier and live a life that is better and that will sing to your heart versus being distressed and upset and not knowing how to deal with those things. Those are two pieces of advice that I see as I look at people that are getting older and the ways in which they can help themselves right now, before they reach their 80s and 90s.

Michael:

Now you see – those are two great pieces, by the way. You see a lot of folks that are in throes of needing support, needing assistance. They need the services. In your community and in your nonprofit, what’s the average age of folks that you guys service?

Andrea:

Oh, gosh, it’s interesting. We cover the gamut, because we not only support the family caregiver but the senior, so it could be that the senior is in their 60s, 70s, 80s. We have a lot of folks that come here with early diagnosis dementia, which is just a heartbreaking diagnosis, but we could have an adult child that happens to be in their 40s or 50s that are caring for an older parent, sometimes even a sibling, who are just at their wit’s end as to what to do. My sister had a stroke or fell down and broke both hips, and so what do we do now? How do we help to take care of her? She was on her own and independent, and now she needs help. What do we do? We have a lot of folks of different ages. It isn’t just, I’ll call it an old people’s charity. We’re there to help everybody associated with caring for an aging loved one.

Michael:

Okay, well, let’s take it a step further then, because I think that you and I and other professionals and a lot of folks maybe listening to the call, we might be aware of the fact that all these things exist. We might be more aware today that we’ve living longer today than ever before. We might be more aware that other issues are going to be prevalent that weren’t in previous generations and so on, but in terms of solutions – if there’s a problem, there’s got to be solutions, and one of the things that was the driving reason behind even creating the company that we have, the LTLA, and this podcast was to disseminate information and education. Seventeen years ago, when I saw that really only 9 or 10% of our nation was prepared or even had long-term care plans or long-term care insurance or whatever, that meant that 90% haven’t done anything about anything yet.

Ultimately, that falls back onto all of us as a society once again, so what do you think, for the people that are in this situation or end up in this situation, and from what you’ve seen, if people could go back and rewind the clock and do things differently, years ago, before they ended up in that situation, what should people be doing? What are some of the answers and the solutions? The problems are there, but what are the biggest challenges that people, once they end up in the storm – what are their biggest challenges, and then what could they have done in preparation for that to have positioned themselves a little bit better? You can’t take away the fact that you could be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. We can’t eliminate those types of things necessarily, but some of the issues that come along with those things perhaps were avoidable or more avoidable, so talk to us about that a little bit from your perspective.

Andrea:

Yeah, it’s interesting. I often say that people say we’re a well-kept secret here in the community, even though we’ve been here for 41 years, and I say, well, why would you ever search us out in advance of needing us? It’s sort of like, if I didn’t have a cancer diagnosis, I might not know about the American Cancer Society, or I might generally know what they do, but I wouldn’t have reached out researched ways I could prevent cancer and that sort of thing.

The difference between one and the other is, it’s almost a certainty that you’re going to get old, unless of course something happens to you before that, whereas your chances of having cancer or Alzheimer’s or whatever the case may be, some other critical disease, are much, much, much less. We don’t think that way, so we’re not financially planning. We’re not planning for our future in ways as to who is going to be my advocate, who’s going to take care of me, how can I set myself up to be as independent with the greatest level of dignity for as long as possible, how can I make sure I don’t outlive my money, how can I not be a burden to my kids? All of these things are things that we need to think about.

Now, there’s some folks that their financial planner or their estate planning attorney will start to uncover and discover and have some of those questions asked for them so that they can – but the vast majority of America aren’t planning. They’re living day-to-day, and in many cases, they’re dealing with the challenges of what today is. Maybe they don’t have a job, or they have a loved one who’s sick, or whatever the case may be, so I think one of the first things that we can do is start to imagine what our future might be like, both the positives – I call them the possibilities – and the probabilities, and then start to think about, well, okay, if this happened to me, what would I do?

I remember when my husband and I did a new estate plan not all that long ago, and our attorney, who’s also a friend of mine, said to me, “So I’m going to write in here that you’re going to want to stay at home as long as possible, forever, in your home,” and I said, “Well, no, that’s not what I want.” She said, “It isn’t?” and I said, “No.” I said, “If my husband’s gone, I’m a social person. I would be absolutely miserable at home alone all day,” so you need to think about those things. What kind of a person are you? How do you make – we have many people right now who are very afraid of outliving their money, and so what can you do today? Often, we suggest to a lot of folks here, particularly single women, that they create a co-housing situation. It can save them a tremendous amount of money that they can use later on in their lives, and it provides companionship and somebody who’s there in case something happens, so there’s lot of things we can do today. It’s just a matter of starting to think about it and have that conversation.

Michael:

Absolutely, and I hope that, in the work that you do and in people listening, the loved ones, the Love, Longevity podcast and other stuff that everybody else is doing out there, again, people can start to just think about the joy and the pleasure that being proactive brings to the table versus living in this reactionary mindset. What’s a fun fact about you, maybe something that some people don’t know?

Andrea:

I doubt anybody would know this on the podcast, but if I had to pick between being Maryann or Ginger from Gilligan’s Island, I would definitely be Maryann. I’m all about the practicality versus the beauty. I’ve been a planner my whole life. My greatest value is wisdom, and I think that those sort of sing more to the Maryann side than the Ginger side.

Michael:

You and I talked a little bit before about one of your favorites. You said, “It can be done.” Explain that a little bit. Why’s that one of your favorite quotes?

Andrea:

It’s a President Reagan quote, and I love it because I think that it embodies The Little Train That Could. If you can visualize it, if you can see the possibility that it can happen, you probably have the resources to get there, and you certainly have the will to get there if you’re thinking about that it can be done. I often think that people come up with really creative solutions. I’ll give you an example. My dad has pretty much lost most of his voice from the Parkinson’s disease, and he needs help getting out of bed and all that right now. He needs hands-on care 24/7, and so what would happen is my dad would wake up from a nap, and he’d need to go to the restroom, so my mother had this little sort of like a cricket clicker thing.

Sometimes, though, she’d be in another room and didn’t hear, and he’s clicking away, needing to go to the restroom, and my mother’s not hearing it. One day, I happened to be in a hardware store, and I just thought to myself, I wonder if I get a doorbell, whether it would be easier for my dad to press the doorbell, and then my mother can take the chime with her to whatever room she’s in so that my dad could now ring the bell, and my mother would hear it, even if she were out in their garden. She could hear it, because she could bring the chime that far, and so that’s been our little solution now for a number of years, and it works great. That’s what I mean about it can be done. There’s all sorts of solutions out there that people are coming up with that nobody even ever thought of.

Michael:

Oh, I love it. I love it. Coming to the end here, let me just ask you two last questions wrapped into one. If you could advice to somebody who’s just getting started in this arena, the aging and longevity world, what nuggets would you share with them?

Andrea:

I’d say that, if you have a passion – so I find oftentimes that what happens is – I can’t tell you how many people come into my office and say to me, I just survived, lived through caring for my mom and dad until their last days, and now I feel like I’ve learned so much, I want to do something with that. That’s fantastic and wonderful and, quite frankly, that’s how I got to do what I did, but I did a whole lot of education, research, practicality, working out in the marketplace so that I could see what was going on. I’d say definitely we need creativity and passion in this industry, and we need practical solutions and affordable solutions, so if those are the things you think you can do, and you can bring your talent and insights and services, this is exactly what the aging industry needs.

Michael:

Awesome. I think that not only are you guys well-positioned to help more people, but I think that our approach here at the LTLA is very much in line with that, to become people’s partner for aging options.

Andrea:

Yeah, I would like to commend you on what you’re doing, because I think that part of the biggest challenge is people don’t know where to go, and if there’s a network that can – we all know that, once you start on the path, for instance, of talking to either a financial planner or estate planning attorney, all of a sudden there’s also some other things. Where do I go to get a caregiver? How do I apply for veteran’s benefits, and what about this, and what about that? I have these choices for senior housing. I don’t know what to do. When you have a trusted network of people that you’re working with, it’s worth its weight in gold.

Michael:

Thank you. Yep, absolutely. Well, Andrea, I know I’ve just gotten a tremendous amount of benefit personally and professionally by being on the phone with you for this period of time and our calls before in preparation for this, but I also know that the audience, without even knowing who’s listening, if they are listening, they absolutely got some wonderful, wonderful guidance and quote-unquote your wisdom. I say quote-unquote, not that it’s not wisdom, but you had mentioned that’s one of your gifts, and I really do believe that it is, so thank you so much for your time. Thank you for all that you do for living out Fred and Hildy’s legacy, and your community is blessed to have you being part of steering it and helping to lead it and guide it, either from behind or from the front, however you do that. You’re doing a great job, so we’re very thankful for your time today here on the Love Longevity episode, and we wish you and your community well. Thanks again for all you do.

Andrea:

My pleasure. Thank you.

Michael:

All right. Be well.

Announcer:

Thank you for joining us on this episode of Love, Longevity. With 80 million Baby Boomers coming into retirement, we need to change the paradigm as to how seniors and their families view and plan for aging and longevity issues. Here at the LTLA, we are your partner for aging options. To learn more about the Long Term Living Association and how we can help you, please visit us at longtermliving.org.