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How Seniors Can Plan for Their Best Life in Older Age

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Al believed he was well-prepared for older age. After a stint in the military, he forged a successful second act as an insurance agent. Over the course of his life, he saved money for retirement, made sure to keep his will updated, and even pre-planned his funeral. He and his wife, Louise, believed they had done everything right.

Al and Louise thought a lot about retirement. Al envisioned himself, at age 90, puttering around the house as he’d always done, making toys in his wood shop to donate to kids during the holiday season. Louise saw herself taking water aerobics classes during the day at the Y and hosting a women’s group at their church.

But when complications from knee replacement surgery temporarily landed Al in a wheelchair at age 72, their eyes were opened to the reality of what might lay ahead.

“I guess you could say we had been wearing rose-coloured glasses,” Al said. “We didn’t imagine a time when we might not be able to shower or dress or drive or just live our lives the way we always had.”

When it comes to planning for future care needs, Al and Louise could be almost any North American seniors. Recent research conducted by Home Instead, Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead Senior Care network, showed that while nearly three-quarters of seniors have written a will, fewer than one in five of them have made plans for their long-term care needs. Yet there are many good reasons why middle-aged and older adults should plan for their care needs in older age.

Health status can change rapidly

Like many seniors, Al and Louise didn’t feel a need to plan for future care assistance because they enjoyed good health in the moment. They may not have realized a senior’s health status can move from robust to frail in short order.

A case of influenza that a middle-aged person easily shakes off might land a senior in the hospital, for instance. Stroke can strike without warning, and the risk of stroke nearly doubles every 10 years after age 55, according to the American Stroke Association. Likewise, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia doubles nearly every five years after age 65, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, and can cause a senior to require ongoing care for many years.

Yet despite these facts, over half of the seniors surveyed said they had not made long-term care plans because they were “in good health.” As a senior care professional, you may be in a position to help clients understand age as a risk factor for sudden decline, so they can plan accordingly.

Burdening the family

Of the surveyed seniors who had not made long-term care plans, nearly half said they didn’t see a need to plan these things in advance because they trusted their loved ones to make the arrangements if they became necessary. But the same survey revealed that adult children feel very uncomfortable even talking about care plans for their aging parents. In fact, 41 percent of adult children said “thinking about when their parents can no longer take care of themselves is more frightening than thinking about their parents’ death.”

This disconnect between how seniors and their children view the situation may indicate that parents who leave their own long-term care plans in the hands of adult children are unwittingly burdening their family members with an unwanted task. Seniors who take this approach also may risk having their care wishes disregarded by children who don’t know what those wishes are. For example, an older parent may want to age in place at home, but his children move him into an assisted living community. Planning ahead for care needs in older age can relieve the family’s burden and help ensure a senior’s wishes are honoured.

Resources for planning: Compose Your Life Song

In order to proactively address the care needs that may arise in older age, seniors would be wise to plan ahead. But creating a long-term care blueprint can feel daunting because of its many components.

Fortunately, seniors and their family members can get help planning for care in older age through the public education program “Compose Your Life SongSM,”. The program offers a wealth of resources to help families begin a conversation about this important topic and assist them in composing a grand finale for the symphony of their life.

Al and Louise came to realize that every moment of their life represented a note in their life song. Instead of leaving the grand finale to chance, they decided to write a score of their own by crafting a plan for their long-term care using resources in the Compose Your Life Song program. In the end, they felt better prepared to live their best life into older age.

Last revised: April 5, 2018

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