Stan's World: Composing Your Later YearsSubmitted by S. F. Ehrlich Associates, Inc. on October 3rd, 2017
September 30, 2017
If nothing else, aging provides perspective. The longer you live, the more you realize there’s only so much you can plan for in life. Conversely, you also learn that failing to plan can be life-altering, but often not in a good way. If you’re a senior (you can define how old that is), in or approaching retirement, it might be time to start pondering where to live the most golden of your senior years.
A few weeks ago, my 95-year-old mother was visited by her 90-year-old brother who resides in Denver. (The ages are good news for my children RE longevity, in addition to the fact that my wife’s mother is approaching 96.) Spending more time than usual in the independent living community where my mother resides gave me a better chance to observe the population close-up. Did they appear happy? How many were challenged physically? Were they engaged in conversation? Is this the type of community we might want to move to at some point in the future? And how are we going to make that decision?
Through my work with clients over the years, and after watching the lifestyles of my mom and my wife’s mother, I have concluded that aging in place (i.e. aging in your own home) should not be the only answer for most seniors. Like everything else in life, aging in place works, until it doesn’t. My pitch is it should not be your only plan. I recognize that everyone is different, and we each have unique needs and preferences, but I also believe there are certain practical considerations that must be factored into these decisions.
Practical considerations include what happens when you get sick? If you have a spouse, the assumption is each of you will care for the other. The assumption, of course, is the healthy spouse will be able to medicate, bathe, and feed the sick spouse. Hiring a handyman to install grab bars or a handicap-accessible shower is the simple piece to aging in place; it’s the people part that makes it so difficult.
If you assume an aide can be hired to assist your partner, where will you find that person? If you need help or less than eight hours a day, good luck. Who wants to drive to your home and then work for two hours? Or four? You’re a one-off client; once the sick spouse heals, you no longer need the aide. Why would an agency send you the most competent people they have, assuming they even have anyone to send you?
If you also assume that you’ll be able to move into an independent living community whenever you’re ready, think again. Independent living communities want to start with a healthy population so they can attract more residents to maintain an active, vibrant community. If one of you has health or memory issues, you may not be good candidates as a new admission.
Of course, let’s not forget the money angle. If you’ve been aging in place and spending down your money with aides, you may not have sufficient funds to move to the community of your choice. Finances are carefully scrutinized when applying to an independent living community, and potential residents who are at or near the Medicaid level will not find a welcome mat. Medicaid may pay for some communities, but possibly not the one that you want to live in.
My mother’s community is comprised of 2000 people. It’s like a small town with restaurants, a pharmacy, medical offices, full-time security, 24-hour EMTs, a small market, bank branches, beauty parlors, etc. Should an aide be required, they even have their own homecare service with aides dedicated to their residents (ranging from one hour a day to 24 hours a day). They have their own secondary insurance plan, which includes a transportation department to take their residents to doctors who are off-campus. And let’s not forget about the availability of continuing care, to include assisted living and nursing care, all on the same campus.
I’m not advocating that every senior should move into an independent living community the day after they retire, but I am suggesting that every senior should ponder when might be the right time to do so. We can’t always manage our health, but we can do ‘what-if’ scenarios that plot next steps should the need arise. Perhaps, your decision will be triggered by age, such as turning 80, or 85.
We can help with these types of decisions and discussions. Take some time to think about alternatives, long before one has to be implemented. In the end, it could mean the difference between a life lived alone, or a life lived to its fullest.