Aging with Dignity: Decatur-based group focuses on meeting the needs of seniors

By Catherine Godbey | Living 50 Plus

From creating a living will to naming a power of attorney to downsizing, many decisions face senior citizens and their families as they age.

To help people navigate those decisions, Tori Vaughan created the Summit Group.

“My goal is to protect our senior citizens and prepare them for what may face them in the future,” Vaughan said. “When a precipitating event happens, people are forced to make immediate decisions and often those are not well thought out. I want to encourage people to plan ahead and seek the resources to best help them and, above all, let them know they do not have to navigate this journey alone.”

The group, whose first event in October at Turner-Surles Resource Center attracted 67 people, has been asked to lead sessions at churches, senior centers and the Elks Club.

“This just shows how much this information is needed, especially now when so much of our population is reaching the age where they will need to face some of these life-changing decisions and will need these specialized services,” Vaughan said.

It’s never too early to start planning for the future, experts on seniors said.

“Aging gracefully with dignity is something that we all want. We don’t want to be a burden. We don’t want to face the unknown with no plan. None of us want to worry about what’s going to happen to us tomorrow or next year,” Connie Glass, an elder law attorney, said. “The things we do now are going to allow us to have control over our destiny and legacy as we get older.”

Key to keeping as much control as possible rests in creating an estate plan, which includes wills, living wills and powers of attorney.

“We all know about wills. Just as important is doing planning to allow someone to make decisions for you if you reach the point where you cannot do that while you are living. You don’t want to leave your personal decision making up to the court system. While you have the capacity and know what is going on, you need to put someone you trust in charge of that decision making,” Glass said.

Those decisions include deciding what happens to a person’s bank account and property, what kind of medical care a person receives and where a person lives if not at home.

Glass suggested naming a financial decision maker and a medical care decision maker.

“If you had an accident today and ended up in the hospital, who’s going to write your checks and pay your bills and make sure the lights stay on. Who’s going to do all of the things you do for yourself every day of your life,” Glass said. “You need someone to manage your finances. It needs to be someone you trust 110%.”

When choosing a medical decision maker, think about who is going to talk to the doctors and pharmacists and admit you to the hospital or assisted living, if necessary.

Glass encouraged people to review their wills and powers of attorney on a regular basis.

“Your will needs to be current with the circumstances of your life as they exist today, not 23 years ago when you did your will. Pull it out every few years, look at it and read it. Make sure everyone in there is still living and that the person you have in charge is still the person you want in charge. A will needs to be a living document,” Glass said.

Along with Glass, the Summit Group’s inaugural event featured speakers on veterans’ benefits, transitioning to assisted living facilities and how to find the right facility.

“When families discover a loved one needs assistance, they don’t know where to go, what is the best for them and what they can afford. Often, they stay at home and don’t make the necessary decisions because they feel overwhelmed,” Vaughan said. “Senior Alliance serves as a tour guide at no charge for the families. They look at the family’s finances, the location and amenities they want and find facilities that match that.”

The event also focused on an often-overlooked area — mental health.

“Often, people face senior transitions because of a big change — loss of spouse, loss of health, loss of mobility. It’s a very challenging journey for people. A lot of times people neglect their mental health. If we don’t have our mental health, we don’t have much of anything,” Vaughan said.

For the 54-year-old Vaughan, the creation of Summit Senior Living Solutions represents a goal 15 years in the making.

“This specific group is something I have dreamed of for 15 years, but, really, my interest in the aging process goes back to college,” said Vaughan, who lives in Decatur. “In college, I took masters’ level classes and specialized studies in gerontology on how people age and what we as a community can do to meet those needs.”

The idea for creating a program to meet those needs arose when Vaughan, who previously served as an administrator for assisted living and memory care communities, received her real estate license. Vaughan specializes in real estate for seniors, including relocation and transition.

“All of us in the senior services profession, we meet with families, one-on-one, throughout the week. While that is wonderful and I value that personal time completely, there are only so many people I can reach that way,” Vaughan said. “When we have education events, though, and speak about issues facing seniors, we can reach so many more people.”

Vaughan, an only child, got a firsthand experience of the aging process with her parents.

“I went through these same things with my own parents. I know the difficulties and the challenges people face,” Vaughan said. “Before she died, my mother and I talked about these issues a lot. She loved my business and vision. It was something she wanted to be part of and help grow.”

For assistance and information about local resources for seniors, email or call Vaughan at 256-345-9455.

“Most people don’t know what to ask, but we can direct them in the right way,” Vaughan said.

Along with Vaughan, the Summit Group’s core group includes Robert Allen, who specializes in moving, packing and estate sales, Dixie Tyler, a senior living placement advisor, and Peyton Peavey, who helps place seniors in independent living, assisted living and memory care facilities.