Aging is difficult enough when a chronic illness makes you unable to care for yourself, but the sad story of radio personality Casey Kasem and his family brings forward the absolute need to have your desires put into writing - so everyone knows what it is you want and, if possible, how it should be done.* The Kasems aren't the first family to go through such drama and they'll hardly be the last. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Casey Kasem is 82 years old and for years was a radio personality, actor, and musician. He's likely best known for voicing Shaggy in the cartoon Scooby-doo, or hosting the long-running American Top 40 Countdown. Kasem was diagnosed a year ago with Parkinson's disease, although news articles say that the diagnosis is really Lewy body dementia. According to reports, Kasem's illness has progressed to the point that he needs complete care, including tube feeding. And now, he has been hospitalized, reportedly with an infected bedsore (Casey Kasem in critical condition as his family gathers at the hospital but continues the legal battle over star's care). An infected bedsore, which developed into sepsis, is what led to actor Christopher Reeve's death.
While we can't know what is really going on behind closed doors, Kasem's oldest daughter is accusing Kasem's second wife, Jean, of keeping Kasem from his children from his first marriage. She also claims that her step-mother has been mistreating him, something that Jean Kasem vehemently denies.
Not many of us have the large bank accounts that Kasem has, but complicated family issues aren't restricted to the famous or wealthy. And even the most stable of families can become upset and dysfunctional when a parent becomes ill, particularly if it is a drawn out illness. For this reason, it's essential that everyone in the family know the parents' wishes and that these wishes be documented. Misunderstandings become all too easily part of life during stressful situations. Someone may remember a conversation differently than someone else, or they may have interpreted a comment in a different way. Documentation doesn't always avoid conflict, but it can minimize it.
So what needs to be discussed?
- Decision making. If you are incapable of making your own decisions - medical, financial, living - who can make those decisions for you? Who would the back up person be if the one you chose is unavailable?
- Access. Who has access to your records, both medical and financial?
- Advanced directives. What do you want done? Do you want to be fed through a tube if you cannot swallow on your own? Do you want to be put on life support? Do you want a DNR (do not resuscitate) order?
- Living arrangements. Is there a particular place you would rather live your final years if it is possible and practical?
- Funeral arrangements. What would you like to be done after you have died, and how?
Are you prepared? Do you need to have this type of conversation with your parents?
*edited to add: It seems that Kasem had tried to put his affairs in order before he became too ill to do so himself. There were reports that he had previously signed papers assigning his oldest daughter the right to make his medical decisions. According to news accounts, Kasem's wife had this changed and she was then put in charge.