The Power of Planning: Taking Charge of Your Own Aging Journey

by: Lisa Mayfield

At 72, Betsy is doing all the right things to ensure she enjoys good physical, emotional, mental, and financial health.  She eats a Mediterranean diet, doesn’t smoke, drinks in moderation, exercises regularly, has adjusted her spending and investments for retirement, goes for regular check-ups with her doctor, and gets the recommended health screenings. She gardens, spends quality time with family and friends, takes classes, travels, and volunteers. Her life is busy, full, and fun.

However, Betsy 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. Yet it did, resulting in a panicked call to her daughter (then 911), followed by an ambulance ride to the ER and a three-day hospital stay.

On her homecoming, Betsy’s new normal was obvious from the moment she left the car and slowly, cautiously navigated the walkway and stairs to her front door. She began taking note of changes she would need to make as she healed and to support her moving forward.

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 that are essential to successful planning and preparing for longevity? Here’s a list to review:

Legal documents

Make this the first step. If we don’t have basic legal documents in order, it can easily and unnecessarily complicate everything else. According to the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, estate planning documents should include durable powers of attorney for health care and finances; advance health care directive to physicians (living will); a will; and anatomical gifts/burial instructions.

Incapacitation for any reason puts the burden of decision making on people who may not be prepared for the responsibility. These binding legal documents are like a love letter: They spell out our wishes and can relieve a loved one’s concern about making the right choices.

Community

Being able to draw on social networks of friends or family is 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 full time or part time, retire and travel, move closer to family, or stay put, we need to understand the financial landscape and how our money will support us in the years ahead. We also need to get a sense of how our finances might be impacted if our health changes.

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 has made this move 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. They include improved lighting, grab bars in bathrooms, a low- or no-barrier shower entry, and removing rugs to reduce the likelihood of a fall. A certified aging-in-place specialist can help you navigate these home modifications.

Transportation

Betsy was homebound for a time—and if she later found herself unable to drive, she had very limited options for transportation where she used to live. 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 your 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, engaging the advice of an elder law attorney, financial adviser, and aging life care professional can be a smart investment in preparing for our longevity.

Don’t leave your future to chance. Don’t leave it to family or friends to figure out. Start to prepare now. Planning can safeguard our happiness, our health, and our peace of mind. Are we ready?

Lisa Mayfield MA, LMHC, GMHS, CMC, Fellow Certified Care Manager 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. She currently serves as Past President of the Aging Life Care Association (ALCA).


Resources

Books

  • Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining 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

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