By DIAN VUJOVICH
GRANDMA-MA-MIA: Okay, so not every grandma is as well preserved - on celluloid - as Sophia Loren. But many do need personal finance help tailored specially toward seniors.
Photo: Michael Urban/AFP/Getty Images
January 22, 2006 -- Living to the ripe old age of 90 or 100-plus is a great thing — provided you've got the bucks to do it and someone to care for you.
The cost of getting old in America today comes down to a couple of things: dollars and cents and care-giving. Care-giving is best administered by someone with a clue about how your body and mind age and the sense to help you understand it.
Increasingly, that someone may be a financial planner with an RFG (registered financial gerontologist) designation after his or her name.
"RFGs like myself offer a network of resources," says Frank Congemi. "We can help find a qualified registered nurse, elder-law attorney, or implement a comprehensive financial strategy."
To date there are 120 people with an RFG designation from the American Institute of Financial Gerontology at Widener University in Chester, Pa. The program began in 2003 and is in partnership with the American Society on Aging.
"It's a program that primarily teaches a side of gerontology to financial professionals," says Neal E. Cutler, professor of financial gerontology at Widener.
Courses include those in psychology, biology, sociology and ethics in aging. "The purpose is for financial professionals to expand their knowledge of how to deal with the older client and the older family." A family, Cutler said, that might include 90-year-old parents and 18-year-old kids.
Congemi added the RFG designation to his name because he saw a growing need in his aging client base in and around his Forest Hills community. "They had built up tremendous amounts of money, but they also get sick and sometimes debilitated and then need coaches, therapists, etc. in their lives."
One of his clients, for instance, is an 88-year-old who once had a thriving business and now has plenty of money but doesn't always remember things like whether a bill has been paid. Furthermore, he shouldn't get behind the wheel of his car, Congemi says, because "he's been pulled over a number of times for his driving."
To solve the latter problem, Congemi suggested his client hire a personal assistant who can act as a driver whenever he needs one. To resolve the bill-paying issues, he's had electronic payments set up wherever possible. Neither solutions take away any of his client's independence; they are merely different ways of dealing with day-to-day necessities.
And therein lies one of the beauties of the RFG program: It's not about telling grandma or grandpa what they can or cannot do, it's about showing them — and their care-givers — how they can adapt to different ways of doing the same old thing.