Stan's World: Living In An Age LabSubmitted by S. F. Ehrlich Associates, Inc. on May 15th, 2017
May 15, 2017
Seniors, many with the help of their adult children, will ultimately face a multitude of issues as they age. Addressing them sooner than later can contribute to a long, happy, and productive retirement.
A few years ago, I tore out an article from MONEY Magazine with the headline: “A 65-year-old woman can expect to live past 85. Aging expert Joseph Coughlin says she’ll need more than a financial plan for that.”1 Coughlin, the Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab is the author or more than 100 research papers on aging, so he knows a thing or two about this subject. The article mentioned a number of potential decisions that seniors will have to make as they age, and I’ve had the opportunity to witness the positive and negative consequences from some of those decisions in real time.
With two elderly mothers, my wife and I live in our own age lab. Our experience provides me the opportunity to share a little of what we’ve learned (and continue to learn). If you’re a senior, or someone who is or will care for a senior, perhaps some of our experiences will be beneficial.
Let’s focus on housing, often the biggest decision an aging senior will make. That’s especially true for a married woman, who is likely to live longer than her spouse. With the children of boomers moving all over the map to secure jobs, the decision on where to move takes on even more significance because help may neither be just down the street or even in the same time zone.
Pearl’s mother has chosen to age in place. She lives in a post-World War II ‘Leavitt-style’ house with a single bathroom on the second floor, thus requiring a lift to be installed on the stairs. A home-care aide comes to the residence to help with a number of daily living activities, but there is little personal interaction with others. (Pearl and her sister don’t live in the same state as their mother.)
In terms of aging in place, Professor Coughlin offers the following: “What if you lose some mobility? If you live in a two-floor home, can you move your master bedroom downstairs? Are your kitchen and bathroom accessible? Think about the services you’ll need one day and if you know where you’ll get them. Who will change your light bulbs when you can’t? Do you trust them? It’s not just about having money to last a lifetime, but ensuring you have the tools to live better longer.”
In contrast, my mother lives in an independent living community with approximately 2000 residents. There is communal dining for dinner, single level apartments, 24-hour EMTs and security, on-site doctor’s offices, a suite of medical offices, emergency pull cords on the walls, etc. Recently, we added a home-care aide for the mornings who works through an agency which is part of the community. (There are also facilities on campus for assisted living and nursing care.)
Other quality of life offerings on-site include a theater, a variety of clubs, speakers, banks, hairdressers, physical therapists, restaurants, a pharmacy, a shuttle bus for local shopping, and much more. The caveat, of course, is the cost, as there’s a buy-in in order to move into the community.
The fact that my mother has more available to her doesn't mean that an independent living community is the best decision for everyone. In her case, I can state that it not only is the best decision for her, but it puts her two sons at great ease knowing where she is and what surrounds her.
Retirement is about more than housing, but hopefully, our on-going experiences will get a few conversations started. As a planner, I worry about a lot of contingencies for our clients. As the son of an elderly parent, I need to know that a lot of those contingencies can be handled if, or when, they occur. When it comes to aging, everything is fine, until it’s not.
1 Wang, Penelope. “A 65-Year-Old Woman Can Expect to Live Past 85. Aging Expert Joseph Coughlin Says She’Ll Need More than a Financial Plan for That.” Money, Nov. 2012.