As a full-time caretaker for a senile old woman, I've come to realize that there are some very important questions which everyone should ask... and which very few do ask.
It all boils down to this single question: What do you want out of your elder years?
I've noticed a tendency among people from a variety of backgrounds to treat elderly persons with fading minds much as they would treat toddlers. Essentially, the person's individual free will is not respected to the same extent as that of a middle-aged adult. As the elderly person becomes increasingly dependent, ever more decisions are taken away from that person's control.
For example: Will the person be allowed or forced to ...?
- eat healthy food in health portions at healthy times?
- cook for himself/herself?
- take medical check-ups, exams, procedures, operations, etc?
- watch/read the news or anything else which is upsetting?
- drive a vehicle?
- control his or her own finances, subscriptions, investments, etc?
- go to family gatherings or other social events?
- hold or play with young children who might accidentally injure him or her?
- control who is allowed in his or her home (maid, cook, relatives, visitors, etc)?
You need to think long and hard about how you hope to be treated if or when you become senile and/or frail. No one is going to ask you when you are already old.
Odds are that many of your loved ones will try to force upon you what they perceive as the only reasonable choices. They want you to stick around for as long as possible, so they will go to great lengths to extend your lifetime. They also want you to be happy, so they may lie to you or hide things from you to protect you from injustices (such as phone scams), sadness, anger, or tough decisions.
If you prefer freedom to longevity, then you must make your preferences clear to your children, grandchildren, friends and neighbors. Wise and good-hearted people can disagree on what is appropriate for care of the elderly.
In my own caretaking duties, I prefer to err on the side of honoring my grandma's free will. She should exercise, but I won't force it. She should eat full square meals, but I won't force it. She can watch or read whatever she wants. The house is hers (regardless of whose name is now on the title), so choices ranging from the AC/heater setting to who is allowed to enter the house are her choices to make.
On the other hand, she is not free to endanger other people by driving a car. She is no longer free to work in her garden under the summer sun, because she does not realize she is no longer physically capable of the task. She is no longer allowed to cook, because she now lacks the physical endurance and the mental concentration. At 95 years of age, she cannot do all that she used to do and is not always aware of her own weakness or senility, so she must be protected in some ways. She does not handle her own bills or answer her own phone.
Perhaps the trickiest aspect of husbanding an old person is providing opportunities for the human need to be productive. However much a 95-year-old woman can no longer do, she must be allowed to contribute something if she is to remain happy and strong. Blessedly, this can be as simple as being enabled to share the wisdom of memories and life lessons. Letters and other kinds of communication or gift-giving help as well.
As I said, your solutions to these problems will depend largely on what you believe the purpose and potentials of old age might be. Consider this an essential part of retirement planning.
And consider this: If you lived a thousand years, there would still be children for you to meet and watch mature, still labors and gifts to offer, still thoughts and memories to share. The age of 50 was once considered a ripe and fortunate longevity. When planning for yourself and for those you love, remember that every year is a blessing, but also that fulfillment cannot be measured in years.