The Power of Planning: Taking Charge of Your Own Aging Journey
At 72, Betsy is doing all the right things to ensure she maintains good health and continues to enjoy physical, emotional, mental, and financial health well into her 80s and beyond. She eats a Mediterranean diet, doesn’t smoke, drinks in moderation, exercises regularly, has adjusted her spending and investments for retirement, goes to regular check-ups with her doctor and gets the recommended health screenings. Additionally, she gardens, spends quality time with family and friends, takes classes, travels, and volunteers. Her life is busy, full, and fun.
However, she lives by herself in a large, two-story home with a generous yard she maintains herself in a remote part of western Washington. Her home is a 20-minute drive from the closest family member.
For all her planning and thoughtful preparation, Betsy didn’t anticipate how a chronic back issue could flare up. It did, resulting in immobility, a panicked call to her daughter, then 9-1-1, followed by an ambulance ride to the ER, and a three-day hospital stay.
When she returned home, the reality of how her home could not accommodate her new normal was obvious from the moment she exited the car and slowly, cautiously navigated the walkway and stairs to her front door. It was then that she began taking note of changes she would need to make as she healed.
This scenario is far too common. Fortunately for Betsy, she fully recovered and has adjusted activities to keep the back pain at bay. She’s also making practical changes she’s sorry she hadn’t made earlier.
What are some of those areas we often overlook, but are so essential to successful planning and preparing for longevity?
Legal documents. Make this the first step. If we don’t have the basic legal documents in order, it can easily and unnecessarily complicate everything else. According to the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) those estate planning documents should include:
- durable powers of attorney for health care and finances
- an advance health care directive to physicians (living will)
- a will
- anatomical gifts/burial instructions
Incapacitation for any reason puts the burden of decision making on others who may not be prepared for the responsibility. These legal documents are like a love letter. They spell out our wishes. They are legally binding and can relieve stress, or a loved one’s concern about making the right choices.
Community: Family, friends, neighbors, neighborhood and city. Being able to draw on social networks of friends or family is shown to make an important contribution to general well-being and quality of life. Living in a community where we feel safe, that is affordable, and where our goals and needs are met is essential.
Finances. Whether the plan is to continue working fulltime, work part time, retire and travel, move to be closer to family, or stay put, we need to understand the financial landscape and how our finances will support us in those plans ahead. We also need to get a sense of how our finances might be impacted if we have a change in health.
Health. We all have concerns about our health as we age. Perhaps our memory isn’t as sharp as it once was. A family history of high cholesterol or cancer can cause worry. What can we do or change now to ensure a healthy future? How do we stay positive as we grow older?
Home. Take a discerning look around. Betsy now wishes she’d moved sooner to a community closer to her adult children with everything on one level, including a barrier-free entry to her home. She made this move later and feels better prepared if she has another emergency. If you have a steep incline or stairs that are more difficult to navigate with each passing year, it may be time to move.
Home adaptions are one possibility and can be cost-effective: improved lighting, grab bars in bathrooms, a low- or no-barrier shower entry, removing rugs to reduce the likelihood of a fall. Working with a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) is one option, as they provide home modifications specific to supporting aging-in-place.
Transportation. If Betsy had found herself unable to drive, and for a time, she was homebound, she had very limited options for transportation where she originally lived. Having access to public transportation, ride share services, or living in a walkable, accessible community can make a huge difference in your mobility, as well as ability to access entertainment, social and community engagement, shopping, and health care.
Planning is Empowering. We should all give these key areas serious consideration and reflection. If we find there is a gap in preparedness, engaging the advice of an elder law attorney, financial advisor and aging life care professional can be invaluable and a smart investment in preparing for our longevity.
Don’t leave it to chance. Don’t leave it to family or friends to figure out. Start to prepare now. Planning now can safeguard our happiness, our health and our peace of mind. Are we ready?
Lisa Mayfield is founder and principal of Aging Wisdom an Aging Life Care™ consulting, care management and creative engagement practice that strives to bring peace of mind by both directly improving the quality of life for older adults and by providing consultation and coaching services for their families.
- Aging Life Care Professionals: Aging Life Care™, also known as geriatric care management, is a holistic, client-centered approach to caring for older adults or others facing ongoing health challenges or planning ahead
- Center for Healthy Aging (part of the National Council on Aging)
- Certified Aging in Place Specialists (CAPS): certified through the National Home Builders Association
- National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA)
Resources for Planning
- MIT Age Labs 8,000 Days Workbook: a workbook to help you make the most of retirement
- The Plan Your Lifespan website will help you learn valuable information and provide you with an easy-to-use tool that you can fill in with your plans, make updates as needed, and easily share it with family and friends
- Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimaging Life by Louise Aronson
- Enlightened Aging: Building Resilience for a Long, Active Life by Dr. Eric B. Larson and Joan DeClaire
- Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old? by Joy Loverde
- Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age by Mary Pipher