Maggie Van Camp, leader of agricultural development for BDO, sees the key foreboding issue for agriculture as farm succession. She asks, “Who is going to farm in future generations…and how the heck are we going to transfer the management and ownership of those farms?” 

Consider the following facts that are currently impacting farm succession:  

  • Never before have the older generation lived this long, 
  • Never before have our farm businesses been this complicated, 
  • Never before have our farm assets been this valuable.  

But disease and declining cognitive functioning impact farm succession too. “What’s the urgency for farm transition?” you may wonder. What is at risk? While cancer, heart attack, and stroke might motivate folks to take action to get their affairs in order, decreasing brain function is harder to pinpoint. Is it just a function of aging, or is it something more insidious? Today I want to talk about the uncomfortable topic of dementia and how you can let go of denial and face it head-on.

[Tweet “Declining cognitive function…when is it ‘just a function of aging’, and when is it something more insidious? Check out my latest blog post to get my advice for #farmers and their #farm family when dealing with #dementia.”]

Dealing with Dementia: Stories from My Family

Dealing with Dementia: Stories from My Family Og

In October 1997, we buried my father-in-law, who suffered from a genetic brain shrinking disease, and in November 2011, we buried my farming father, who had suffered from Alzheimer’s. It’s 2020 now, and I am seeing farmers under 60 dealing with forgetfulness that is impacting their ability to manage a farm, as well as those at 70 who still cannot believe how many details they are forgetting on a daily basis.

We knew that dementia was impacting my dad when he started putting his Corn Flakes box in the fridge, which was noticed by a boarder in his home. Thankfully, we got the home care coordinator involved, quickly called a family meeting, and sought out a geriatric psychiatrist who made the diagnosis and removed dad’s ability to drive. 

This did not happen overnight but required direction, action, and accountability to get a workable care plan in place. Thankfully, Dad had an updated will, an enduring power of attorney, and he trusted his children to act well on his behalf. No parts of this story are harmonious, but that is for another time.

Losing the ability to make sound decisions is a huge fear factor for spouses who are seeing decline and don’t have a partner who accepts the fact that their brain function is not what it should be for running a farm. My intent in writing this piece is to alert farm families to wipe out all procrastination of getting your wills, financial plans, business plan, and vision for the farm in place while you have good brain power of all the farm team.

It saddens me every time I survey my audiences and find that 25 percent of them don’t even have a will. Some have wills but no power of attorney for the risks of being incapacitated to make decisions (think truck accident injury). When my hubby crashed in October 2017, we were prepared for our successor son to invoke the POA so the farm bills could be paid, and decisions made. Some folks have wills that are 19 years old, leaving the farm successor in chaos to fight with non-farm siblings who are due to inherit a third of all farm assets!!

Staying stuck in denial has to stop now.

Tips for Dealing with Farmer Dementia

Tips for Dealing with Farmer Dementia OG

What steps can you take to explore better brain health and benchmarks for dementia? Here are five things I advise you to start thinking about – and acting on – today. 

1. Review your family genetics and history. 

Get the farmer to have a physical exam with your family doctor; talk about your concerns, and share your observations. Hearing loss, which is common in farmers, can impact brain function, so there are audiologist appointments that may explore this further.

2. Talk to the local Alzheimer’s group.

These groups can offer coping strategies and insight into the many forms of dementia. 

3. Be transparent with your farming family. 

Let them know what is really going on and educate them as to the next steps. Call a family meeting with a seniors care facilitator from your local health region. If you are very rural and isolated from good support, you may have to create your own team of friends to help you navigate the losses ahead. 

“Ambiguous loss” is the term that describes the gradual breaking off of skills from the one who has decreasing brain capacity. This decline evokes fear when you worry about what the farmer will be unable to do next, not knowing how much time you have to get solid plans in place.

4. When does a person become “incompetent” and not of sound mind?  

Read that question again. This is where we need a HUGE mindset shift in blasting away procrastination in farm succession. 

“I’ll get my will done, Elaine, when the harvest is over. No, when Christmas is past. No, when calving is finished. No, when we get back from down south. No, when Easter is past. No, when seeding is done. No, when spraying is caught up. No, when the fungicide is finished. No, when the harvest is done.” 

Yikes! We’ve just gone through a calendar-year of farming pressures, and still, there is no paperwork or documents filed to protect your family’s future. Make an appointment with your lawyer today to review your current will and update alternates for your power of attorney. Explore your legal options.

5. Figure out where the resistance or pushback for getting things done is coming from.

Is it a lack of understanding of legal terms, or accounting requests? This type of resistance is in the HEAD and intellectual pushing back and fear of looking stupid. You need to build a safe, respectful place for conversation with trusted advisors. A farm woman thanked me for telling her husband the implications of dementia. He listened to me but did not get the original message from his doctor. Sometimes messages need to come from several places before the reality of the situation sinks in.

Van Camp’s personal suggestion is to discuss, agree, and write down when action should be taken. For example, her mom has agreed to move to a retirement home when she can no longer pass the driver’s test. She is also well aware of her risk of Alzheimer’s, the symptoms, and when she should talk to her family and her doctor about it. In the meantime, she is still doing wonderful.

Tears flow when emotions are raw. Farmers love their soil, their cows, and their empires that they have toiled hard to create, maintain, and grow. I remember the single tears that would flow down Dad’s cheek when he listened to old-time country music. It was his way of communicating that he was having a good day. 

Dementia is about losing brain function, so there is much grief to navigate. Perhaps this is the time to hire a counselor, minister, or care worker who can help you unpack the myriad of emotions swirling in the family dynamic. The resistance or pushback that comes from deep emotion is what I call HEART issues. 

Lastly, trust your gut. You intuitively know what the right next step is for your family.

We are all aging, and we are all dying. Please face reality sooner than later.

Fixing Your Time Stress Mess

60 minutes

Workaholics will discover helpful strategies for managing their time stress. Gain understanding for the tensions of your age and stage on the farm. Learn why some problems are not solvable, but just need to be managed as polarities. Self-renewing people are joyful and productive producers.


Rave reviews

“A joy to work with, heard loud and clear. When the farmers laughed or asked a great question, I knew they were listening and really wanted to learn from her. Her tips were easy to understand. It was just about understanding that conflict happens, and to have the confidence in yourself to ask for what you want. In the glowing review from farmers after her presentation, I knew they had heard that loud and clear.”
Maddy Berner, Event Planner & Communications Coordinator, National Milk Producers Federation National Milk Producers Federation
“I wanted to say a HUGE thank you for your virtual kitchen table chat with Arlan Academy. My wife and I signed up as it was exceptionally relevant to our current journey with potentially transitioning to her parents’ farm. The session was able to cover so many aspects of these crucial conversations and hearing you speak to both sides of the conversation was eye opening for my own perspective on this topic. It seemed to be very well attended and sounded like there were many other people who would echo my thoughts and feelings on it.”
N. Oakley, Farmer, Ontario
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Don Forbes, Forbes Wealth Management
“I recently joined in and listened to your Healthy Farmer Agriwebinar for FMC. I truly enjoyed hearing your perspective and even went and grabbed my Mom, away from her work, to come and listen in on some of your main points as well! One area that really stood out for me, both personally with our own succession plans and with our clients, was your discussion involving "Instant Influence" and how ready are you to change? I loved this concept!”
Annessa Good, FCC Transition Specialist, Alberta
“Elaine Froese truly is the Farm Whisperer. With her big heart and stern resolve, she guides families through uncharted waters and helps them arrive safely at their desired destination. She has been there, done that, and has helped hundreds of families come out on the other side. With your family and your farm legacy on the line, you owe it to yourself to start this conversation. You do not need to do it alone. Let Elaine Froese guide you through. Your legacy is being written day by day. How will you be remembered?”
Tracy Brunet, Host of The Impact Farming Show & CEO of Farm Marketer
“You speak like you’ve been sitting at our kitchen table! You know our family issues well. I am feeling more comfortable understanding what we now need to do. Elaine Froese is real.”
Audience Member,
“I attended the meeting you spoke at in Stratford Ontario recently. We held an emergency family/farm meeting today because of issues that I had enough of. We used a 'talking stick' like you recommended and wrote a chart of rules. The rest of the family thought the idea that we needed a meeting was worth rolling their eyes over, until we got started. The younger ones were quick to clue in that they now have an opportunity to be bluntly honest. The older ones took a bit longer to believe they could truly say what they think. In the end, the meeting needed two sessions because there was so much to talk about… and so many things people didn't realize were a big deal to the others. Your lessons and encouragement have given us the tools we need to get to a better place in our relationships and our business. Truly thankful.”
Kim Martin, Dairy Farmer, Ontario
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Tennille Wakefield, Farm Partner
“Some great lessons, Elaine! You continue to do some remarkable and potentially life-changing work.”
James Mitchell, Principal, Conversations Consulting
“Our family had a good farm meeting yesterday afternoon. Your Fairness video was a great topic of discussion. One of the action items after the meeting was to have my two non-farming siblings watch the video before the next big meeting they are involved with on the farm. It will be a great conversation starter as we catch them up on our current plan. As they are younger, we also hope it will help them to ask new questions that may not have been on their mind.”
G.G., Farm Family Legacy Coach, Alberta
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Laurianne Osmack, Financial Planner / Partner, Doell Osmak Wealth Management
“She has a sense of “knowing” quickly what is happening in the family dynamic. Her messages to her audiences drive home what needs to be done next to solve the complex issues of farm transition and conflict resolution.”
Audience Member,
“Eye-opening. Excited to open the door of communication with my spouse and farm family.”
Ashley Hoppe, Farm Partner
“The Strong Farms, Strong Families session gave farm families an opportunity to meet face to face with Elaine Froese... hear her own story, experiences and skill set. From this information packed session and related materials, families could identify areas of success in their journey and other places they need assistance. The greatest take away was that participants could see that Elaine Froese is someone they can trust with the things that they hold most precious.... their family and their farm.”
Nancy Atkinson, Nobleford Ag Society, Alberta
“Elaine’s real-life scenarios help her audiences know they are not alone, knowing there are creative solutions to help them get the life on the farm they have always wanted.”
Audience Member,
“A long time female client who had refined the art of procrastination was so moved by the end of your presentation that she accepted your permission to “drop the bananas.” She contacted me soon after for an appointment to do some planning which included the selling of the family “Century Farm.” A very, very emotional decision on her part that was not likely to have occurred without your presentation.”
Don Forbes, Forbes Wealthy Management
“I just have to say… that your work is amazing and I have never forgotten your teachings from our session in Williams Lake at TRU. It is super important work. I know so many people going through the trauma of succession. I hate to use that word, but I was an “out-law” and know it can get terrible. I continue to forward your emails on to others. Keep doing what you do! You are amazing. You kind of walk into the fire regularly… and with a smile. Proud to have met you.”
Megan, BC Rancher
“As my husband and I eagerly started the course we were optimistic and excited to be taking this next step in our Farm Transition. We were starting to question ourselves and whether or not we were just being selfish and greedy, and if this Farm Transition was still an option for us. We barely got through the first Module and were already having such a huge relief. As we moved through the modulus there were so many times that we just sat back with our hands in the air and thought YES. My husband and I would smile with relief because all of the concerns that we have been struggling with were relevant and came up in the modules. We really enjoyed the course and are excited to move on to the next stages to find our farm resolution.”
Shannon Gilchrist, “Get Farm Transition Unstuck” online course participant
“My hubby farms with 2 brothers and parents, and it’s become a really toxic place. No communication, no respect, etc. Twelve months ago, my husband’s brothers told him they don’t want to work with him anymore and offered him a pay out. His parents did nothing to stop it! He had no choice but to leave. Three months later, we moved off the farm and into town. He has been offered heaps of jobs and is now truck driving and carting hay and grain. We have tried communicating with his parents about what happened but they are not interested. So basically my hubby has lost his family. Very sad but we as husband and wife are overall in a good place and moving on to create our own life. Please continue on with all your wonderful work in helping families on the farm. I continue to tell any farmers I know about you, that they must ‘google’ you, and read your books.”
Donna, Farmer, Australia

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