What Planners Talk About

Ever wonder what financial planners talk about when they go to an industry conference? I know you spend lots of time wondering, so this week I’m going to give you a sense of the conference I attended last week in Austin, TX.

I’m a member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, the organization that puts on this twice-annual continuing education extravaganza. NAPFA’s conferences are unlike many I’ve attended because they’re filled with high-quality educational content, not product pitches from the latest mutual fund or insurance product.

There were some interesting themes this year, with maybe half of the content being investment-related and the rest addressing topics such as health, wellness and aging. Here are three examples.

Keeping Our Brain Young

This talk was given by a wellness guru about brain health and how serious mental decline isn’t necessarily a given as we age. Apparently, lifestyle choices we make over time have a huge impact on brain health. Sleep plays a major role. The speaker provided some basic tips to ensure quality sleep, such as staying on a schedule, limiting screen-time prior to bedtime and darkening our bedrooms at night followed by natural light in the morning.

Dementia, the speaker also explained, is a set of symptoms and not a disease, such as Alzheimer’s. A third of dementia is preventable and much is treatable if it’s caught early. Alzheimer’s research is rapidly evolving. 95% of what we know about the disease has been discovered within the last 15 years and much of that has come in the last few years. For example, the speaker talked about how our roughly 80 billion brain cells produce waste every day. This waste, if left to accumulate too long, starts interfering with how the cells in our brain communicate with each other. The waste gets cleared up during sleep, which is part of what makes getting a good night’s sleep so important.

Other tips for keeping the brain young included getting good exercise, going outside for even just a few minutes of nature-time daily, eating heart-healthy foods (“what’s good for the heart is good for the brain”), social engagement and learning new things. It’s also important to monitor for issues like sleep apnea and diabetes as both are risk factors for Alzheimer’s. Interestingly, these suggestions don’t require fancy gadgets or apps on our phone; they’re simple things we can do each day.

Becoming a Better Leader

One of the keynote addresses was by an expert in the behaviors of the world’s most effective leaders. Now, I’ve heard lots of speeches filled with platitudes about leadership, but this was different by proposing specific actions one could take to incrementally become a better leader, both at work and at home.

For example, we all make small promises to others every day. But it turns out that, on average, we only keep about one out of every five. Think about that. We tend to make these promises, said the presenter, as afterthoughts and either quickly forget about them or lower them on our list of priorities until they simply drop off. As you can imagine, this kind of thing diminishes our credibility with coworkers, friends and family slowly over time. The cumulative impact can take a long time to correct.

So, the speaker proposed steps like purposefully making, and then keeping, small promises at every interaction. “I’ll follow up via email when I get back to the office” … or, “I’ll swing by the store and pick that up for you on my way home” … and then actually doing it.

Also wise is giving dedicated time to those important to us. Since we’re usually so distracted these days, focused time and attention (even if it’s just a few minutes) can be a gift to someone and lead to better relationships. These are deceptively simple tools, but they work. Focus on getting a little bit better every day, the speaker said, instead of feeling burdened by the nebulous task of “becoming a better leader”.

Eldercare 2.0

One of the next sessions covered the evolving landscape for aging in America. Not just related to the healthcare industry but navigating the personal and family struggles associated with diminishing capacity. We heard from members of the Aging Life Care professional association (https://www.aginglifecare.org/). This group of independent care managers helps seniors with health, disability, financial and housing issues encountered as they age.

Care managers also remove some of the burden born by family members. Apparently, almost 30% of our adult population is caring for an aging senior, often for over a decade and often from a distance. This can expose fundamental problems, such as ensuring mom or dad took their prescriptions. How do you do that remotely? Apparently, medication-related problems are the fifth leading cause of death in our country and many prescriptions simply go unfilled. Care managers help with this, ensuring prescriptions are taken and then monitoring for harmful side effects.

We also discussed the importance of healthcare directives, medical and financial powers of attorney, and how folks are often caught off guard by a misunderstanding of how these documents work. This discussion reinforced how important it is to actually read through our estate planning documents at least every five years (and more frequently for seniors).

This was about half of Day 1 at the conference. It was time well spent, for sure, and I’m already looking forward to next year.

Have questions? Ask me. I can help.

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