Today’s culture tells Baby Boomers they have the power to stop their biological clocks with diet, exercise and meditation.
As she performed on the 2020 Superbowl stage, a fit, 50-year-old mother of two fuels the belief that our lives will be longer and better than our parents and grandparents.
The bad news? Beliefs and expectations about how long and how well we will live are delaying the important plans we should make right now.
If you were born between 1946 and 1964 you know there’s plenty to think about here and now. We, the ‘OK Boomer’ cohort, juggle plenty: Keeping (or getting) employment. Supporting the kids’ education. Worrying about our aging parents’ well-being. Actively caring for them, on our own or with professional help.
Amidst the chaos of our present and pressures to age like a star, nagging thoughts persist: What will our lives look like when we reach our 70’s, 80’s and 90’s? Where will we live? How will we live? What will be our purpose? What happens if “something” happens to us? How will we receive care, and from whom?
Longevity is a mixed blessing. While U.S. life expectancy has edged up slightly, we’re also seeing more people live longer with chronic conditions and physical limitations.
If you’re already caring for an elderly loved one, you’re smack dab in the middle of this reality. You might be dealing with their memory, mobility, and medical issues on a day to day basis. And you’re probably honestly thinking, deep down: “How can I avoid (or mitigate) what my parents and relatives are going through when I get to be their age - which is not too far away?”
If we don’t begin to plan for our older selves now, our pain may greater than what many of our parents or grandparents now cope with. As we age into our 60’s and 70’s, here are the seven common sense ways to begin the process.
1. Start with the basics.
We all know in our heads that diet, exercise and lifestyle can play a huge role in living longer and healthier. By avoiding tobacco and moderating alcohol, exercising regularly, eating a plant-heavy, non-processed diet and maintaining a low body mass index, we have a much better chance to delay or prevent conditions from appearing or worsening.
As with most, it’s a question of getting with the program and staying on course. Want some global inspiration? Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones project tracks the habits of centenarians in places like Okinawa, Greece and Sardinia, whose active lifestyles and peasant diets have extended both quality and length of life.
2. Get a financial and legal plan now.
You have been making regular contributions to a savings plan, IRA or 401K. Now, decisions and plans about retirement, asset protection, and end of life have to be addressed. Finding a financial advisor who can help you chart a course to retirement is a good place to start.
Now let’s think about the unexpected. What if your parents need help paying for home care or skilled nursing? Do your spouse and children understand what you want to happen if you become chronically or terminally ill? How will your assets be divided in the case of your untimely death?
Elder law and special needs attorneys are trained to serve the legal needs of our aging population. The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys’ national directory is a great place to find an expert who can help protect you and your family, avoid misunderstandings and ensure that your long-term wishes are followed.
3. Imagine (and plan) your future living environment.
Studies say that most of us want to remain in our homes as we age. But if they have stairs or multiple levels, if doorways are not wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair or walker or if there are no grab bars in critical spaces, our homes can become health and safety hazards. Do you aim to remain at home into your 70s, 80s and beyond? Think about consulting with an Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS)now, while you are still working, to create a living environment you’ll cherish (and feel safe in) for years to come.
4. Understand your in-home care options before you need them.
While most of us hope that our children will be around to help care for us as we grow older, that’s no longer a guarantee in today’s mobile society. If your children or other family members live far away, and you need ongoing support, educate yourself on your options before you need them.
The Home Care Association of America offers this search tool to help you find association-vetted agencies that offer trained, certified caregivers. Their services range from homemaker-companion services, to helping with bathing, toileting and dressing, to live-in 24/7 support.
Not sure where to begin or what to ask? Here’s a primer to get you started.
5. Don’t discount senior living communities
Old perceptions die hard: most of us still believe that retirement communities are only a waiting room to the pearly gates. Nothing could be further from the truth for today’s senior living communities, which offer residents social and cultural engagement, healthy movement, meals, transportation to medical appointments and more. Happily for us Boomers, the senior living industry is beginning to evolve to meet the needs of middle-income seniors, the next big wave of retirees.
Whether you choose a rental-style community or a full-service life plan community, options abound. Looking at communities for a parent or older relative? Do your research, tour several communities, talk to residents and ask questions before making any decisions.
6. Get your affairs in order.
It's a common misconception that having a will is all the end of life planning you need. In reality, there are legal documents as well as logistical matters that can and should be handled as soon as possible. Planning ahead is the only way you can ensure the people you leave behind aren’t left with more questions than answers. Putting this on your plate now takes it off their plate down the line.
A few things to consider, beyond the will:
1. Create an advance directive
2. Designate a Power of Attorney
3. Create a comprehensive list of digital accounts and subscriptions that will need to be canceled and closed (i.e. email, social media, prescription delivery)
4. Secure all passwords for the aforementioned accounts in a digital lockbox
5. Collect all important documents and identification and put it in a secure location
While end of life planning can be complex, there are tools to make it easier.
Visit www.lantern.co for comprehensive and simplified guidance on end of life planning.
7. Prepare for the financial and emotional costs of skilled nursing and hospice support.
If you’re caring for an aging parent or relative, you may already have experienced the hospital-to-skilled nursing / rehab facility-to-home continuum. If your loved one has a chronic or terminal illness, palliative or hospice care may be a next step.
Now, think about how you will want to have your illness (and affairs) managed if or when you might be diagnosed with a condition that requires similar attention. As Wall Street Journal author Katy Butler writes, “Imagine what it would take to die in peace and work back from there.”
8. Consult with an Aging Life Care Specialist
Whether you’re managing care for an older loved one right now or need advice to plan for your older self, Aging Life Care Specialists can help you sort through the process, prioritize decisions and put things in perspective. If you’re currently caring for a parent, these experts can save you and your family time, money and heartache.
Tempus Fugit (aka Time Flies)
There’s no need to finish your plan right away. The important thing is to begin. Get started now, chunk out the items so they fit your schedule, and get expert advice. Your older self will thank you!