Why Plan for My Future?
Looking ahead is something we all do to some extent. Most people give some thought to financial planning for retirement, for example. However, other than considering health insurance, few of us really take a serious look at how we might prepare for the life changes aging almost inevitably will bring.
Picture yourself at age 80. Now, based on your ideal scene, ask yourself these questions:
Where are you living?
What do you look like?
What condition is your body in?
What meaningful things are you doing?
What friends or family do you have near?
What type of lifestyle are you living?
Now, be honest with yourself. What are you really doing now to create the circumstances—physical, medical and financial—you have visualized?
You have probably taken some steps in the right direction. However, if you’re like most folks, you probably haven’t considered the whole picture. So, since awareness is the first step in taking positive action, we have prepared this document to assist you in designing the future you really want instead of ending up in a situation you inherit by default.
Getting The Broader Picture
Planning ahead isn’t always easy because you don’t really know how your needs may change. However, you can make some educated projections and do some planning before a crisis occurs that allows you to be more calm, more thorough, and more thoughtful in exploring your options.
You may have seen your parents or older loved ones in their aging process. They have probably shown you things you want to do when you grow older, and things you would want to change. You will want to keep these awareness and lessons in mind as you plan ahead for your ideal future.
There are many good books and programs on planning for your future, however AgingPro provides a slightly different look at this topic. We assist you to know the realities of getting older that people just don’t talk about and you might not know to think about. Then we offer tips that we have learned from our aging clients for avoiding, putting off, or preparing for these realities.
Pre-planning, taking preventative actions, and anticipating future needs will put you in charge of your future and more in control of your own aging. Most life issues fall into the categories of health, finance, home, activities/friends, work/leisure, personal/spiritual. Making the effort to anticipate what issues you might face, when you might need help, how you want to resolve challenges, and finding resources to locate the assistance you may need will allow you to enjoy your future to the fullest, now and in the future.
Preparing for Good Future Health
To many people, good physical, mental, and spiritual health is the greatest blessing they could ask for. Health impacts all areas of how you live and your quality of life. Personal lifestyle choices are important aspects of your future vitality and wellbeing. We all know that a healthy diet, keeping active, and regular exercise are important to long-term good health. You can make choices in these areas now that will promote health so that you will be able to enjoy your present and future life.
You could also start looking at any illness you currently have, or that run in your family, like diabetes, emphysema, heart disease, etc. Though you may have family history with some illnesses, inheritance only partly influences how our bodies change with age. Lifestyle factors play a significant role—and those are not programmed: they can be changed. Consult your doctor about how historical conditions in your family could manifest in the future. Can you head them off? If not, how can you prepare? Might their effects make it hard for you to get around or take care of yourself? You can also research disease-specific organizations to educate yourself on the course of various illnesses. Education is often the best resource for prevention as well as management of disease.
As you explore what may be in your future concerning health, you might be surprised to discover some interesting things. For example, older adults who regularly participate in physical activities, such as walking or gardening, can reduce the risk of falls, and improve overall health and mental well-being. These kinds of facts are plentiful and can assist you in enhancing the quality of life as you age.
Answering the following questions may give you some insights into what path you are currently on.
• How is your diet?
• How often do you exercise?
• How will you cope if you are affected by one of the common health problems of aging—changes in vision, hearing loss, arthritis and joint pain, decline in physical strength, energy and agility?
• Do you find meaning through spirituality?
There are no right or wrong answers to these question. There is just information that can assist you in knowing what the future might hold for you.
Establishing a Solid Financial Foundation
What are you doing to prepare for you medical needs in the future? These are the single most costly expenses you will encounter.
As you look at this there is one piece of news you must know: The government, including Medicare, does not pay for long-term care needs, unless you live in a nursing home and find yourself in certain very specific circumstances.
This means that if you want to live out your days at home or in an assisted living facility, you need to pay for these things, or have (generally very costly) long-term care insurance. When it comes time to make choices about where you want to live, the first question is “how much money do you have?” This may not be as bad as it may sound. However, it could be a reason to forgo some expenditures that fulfill immediate gratification, knowing you want to maximize your choices later in your life.
AgingPro’s “What is Long-Term Care” document explains the reality of costs involved in the care you may need at some point. Other things you can do to get a good picture of your likely financial condition down the line include:
• Review and understand your investment portfolio at regular intervals
• Obtain professional financial advice. A certified financial planner can give you real information about inflation and how much money you need to save in order to have the lifestyle you want later in life. Now is the time to organize and plan your finances to support the happy and fulfilling older age you desire. Many people don’t have any savings, and feel intimidated at the thought of saving when they can’t even pay for what they have now. The first step is being honest with where you are now financially. Then you can make decisions that will impact your future. There are always choices available to you that will allow you to be in control of your life.
• Research services that will pay your bills for you if or when you can no longer manage by yourself.
• Explore your options for future home-care needs. Find local caregiving agencies in AgingPro’s directory. Learn what services you may qualify for that will bear little or no cost, and you can gain information on the charges for other services. Geriatric care managers can guide you in this process.
Preparing for a Happy Home Situation
Where do you see yourself living in the future? If you’re like most people, the answer is “in my own home!” You can have your wish, especially if you plan ahead. Called “Aging in place,” being able to live out your life at home may involve:
• Sufficient finances to pay for caregiving, if needed
• Home modifications. Assess your home to see if changes will be needed. Often this can mean only a few relatively inexpensive adjustments to make your home safer and easier to live in, such as:
- grab bars in bath/shower and toilet area
- door openings wide enough for a wheelchair or walker
- ramps or lifts for steps or inclines
- counters and cabinets that are at a level that is easy to reach
- non-skid floors
- comfortable handles on doors or faucets
If mobility issues are probable, consider talking to a contractor or accessibility consultant to get estimates and options on various elder-friendly options.
• Researching products. There are many products available today—and more are showing up every week—to make daily tasks easier as we age. There are products to help you turn a door knob, get out of a chair, even pull up your socks. Check out the AgingPro store for products that make your life easier.
• Learning about the senior services your community provides so you are aware of assistance available should you need or want it.
• Finding out where you can get help with housework, lawn, laundry, meals, shopping if you need or want it.
If your preference or current situation are not going to allow for you to age in place, consider alternative housing arrangements. AgingPro offers information on the various housing options available as we age, and there are housing referral services that can assist in your research.
As you look into alternative housing, decide what amenities are important to you in your ideal retirement home or community.
• Walking or jogging trails
• Outdoor spaces
• Public transportation
• Open spaces
• Outdoor or indoor swimming pools
• Security guards
• An exercise room
• Business centers
• Clubs or activities
• Spiritual worship facilities
Think about where you want to live, what setting you’d like, and the experience you are looking for. As the Baby Boomer generation approaches this phase of life, more options are appearing all the time. We encourage you to check in at AgingPro often to keep abreast of the most current developments in this growing field.
Covering All the Legal Bases
This is possibly one of the most important areas to have in order as you age. Make important decisions when you are at your best—you can always adjust or change them later. Be sure to have all appropriate legal documents in place, including:
• Durable power of attorney for healthcare
• Advance directives
• Durable power of attorney for finances
• Trust/Living Trust
In addition to legal documentation, it may serve you to make sure relatives are clear on your wishes for health care and finances.
Considering Important Social Issues: Activities and Friends
Are you the kind of person who gets bored at home? Or do you have a hard time leaving home? An integral part of aging well is to maintain social ties. Here are some things for you to know:
- Relationships in the household can provide social controls and peer pressure that promote better health behaviors, such as healthy eating and physical activity.
- Several studies have indicated an association between social support and cognitive function. A socially engaging lifestyle often results in higher cognition scores in both community and nursing home settings. Because social activities call for effective communication and participation in complex interpersonal exchanges, experts believe social support actually inhibits cognitive decline in the elderly.
- Along the same lines, elderly persons who had no social ties were at increased risk for cognitive decline, compared with those who had five or six social ties.
- Supportive relationships can increase feelings of self-esteem and control over one’s environment, resulting in greater motivation to care for oneself.
- Social support has been consistently identified as a factor in starting and maintaining physical activity.
- Research has also shown that social role involvement and personal control were factors not only in slowing age-related decline in physical health, but also in reducing levels of ADL disability.
- Social contacts and perceived social support from family members, friends and acquaintances are important for fulfillment of different social needs.
Balancing Work and Leisure
Moving from your younger years through “retirement” you enter a new phase in life. You may experience a less defined, less structured day free from the familiar responsibilities of full-time work. Even so, at any age, it is important to find meaningful activities to engage in. This may look like spending more time with grandchildren, volunteering for hospital, service organizations or church/synagogue/mosque groups, taking up a hobby, pursing life-long dreams, travel, new work, or finding opportunities for learning.
As you age, you may find your interests and abilities changing. Some folks find it comforting to lay out a plan anticipating how free time might be spent at each stage of life. In other words, skiing may be appropriate at one point and impractical at another.
Consider these ideas as ways to spend your leisure or free time and be sure to add to the list of questions you can ask yourself.
• How would you like to fill your free time?
• Would you like to volunteer somewhere? Where?
• Do you want to continue working as a paid employee somewhere?
• What are your underutilized talents—things you can do but never pursued?
• What do you look for to find meaning in your life?
• What have you done in your life that has made you happy or brought satisfaction? Try to recreate situations like them where you can flourish.
As you reach retirement age, the balance shifts from work and some leisure to leisure and work only if you choose it. Every person must find their own balance, however the best way to stay youthful and energetic is to be sure you have activities that are meaningful to you and give you reason to wake up feeling enthusiastic every day.
Personal Issues to Consider
If you find, as most do, that you have much more free time as you age, then, in addition to your daily activities, you have the luxury of looking at things you may never have considered before. These can include:
• What are your incompletes? Review them periodically—maybe yearly, like at New Years. Which are practical to complete? Do you still want to complete them?
• We all leave a legacy. What would you like yours to be. What can you do about it? Read about the Importance of Legacy Writing.
• What are your end-of-life wishes? Do you want to be buried or cremated? Do you want some sort of memorial service? Would you like a celebration of your life? Let those who will be responsible for these things know what you would like.
With a little forethought you can handle issues now, before they become pressing. Though our culture does not prepare us to deal with end of life matters, it very much serves us to do so.
The Bottom Line
Barring unforeseen accidents, aging is inevitable. With aging come certain changes—physical, mental, emotional, medical and legal. The good news is that you have a great deal of control over them, and your entire future living situation, if you know what to look at and plan ahead.
AgingPro is here to assist you in your future planning needs, with information and resources to help you prepare for what can be happy, healthy, and fulfilling years ahead.