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Advance planning makes life changes easier for older adults

Advance planning makes life changes easier for older adults

By Judith B. Clinco, RN, BS

If you’re at that happy spot in life—you’re retired, possibly, but you still greet the day with energy and enthusiasm—this is a great time to get your future life in order.

Why now? Because, let’s face it, none of us is invincible. If you’re lucky, you’ll live a long, happy, healthy life. But hope (or luck) isn’t a plan; time catches up with all of us, one way or another. Why not invest some of that energy and enthusiasm you now enjoy in planning how a not-so-robust future you will live?

As Yogi Berra said, when you come to a fork in the road, take it. Good (albeit head-scratching) advice! Let’s call one path of the fork “procrastination.” It leads to a place where other people will make decisions for you: how and where you’ll live, how your money will be spent, your health care choices, and so on.

The other path is called “planning ahead.” Not as much fun as booking that big cruise, but in terms of your future quality of life, much more important. To be clear, I’m not talking about writing a will. That’s an important part of the planning process, but a will’s relevance is largely post-mortem. I’m talking about how things will go while you’re still alive.

Most people want to age in place—at home. While often the best choice, there are a lot of moving parts involved. Is your home a safe place for someone with mobility issues (think stairs, trip hazards, bathroom grab bars, smoke detectors . . .)?

And will you need a caregiver? If so—who will that be? A family member? Someone from a home care agency? What about sharing your home with a “younger elder” or a college student, trading free housing for support and companionship? Or moving to a continuing-care retirement community?

Another moving part: what resources will you need? Do you have long-term-care insurance? A hefty nest egg or sufficient ongoing income? What about building a backyard casita for yourself or a caregiver—or to use as a rental property?

Do you have an advance directive on file? Do others know where it is? Have you mastered the technology for home delivery, ridesharing, video chats and so on?

Planning ahead has another plus, too: stuff happens. One fall, one accident, one unwelcome diagnosis or the loss of a spouse and suddenly you’re in crisis mode, the worst possible situation in which to make consequential decisions.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed (and tempted to procrastinate) by all this. But advance planning is not something you need to do alone; you’re surrounded by a community ready to help. Talking with the professionals at your local Area Agency on Aging is a good place to start—you have nothing to say that they haven’t heard before.

Interviewing certified fiduciaries is another wise move. Identifying ahead of time a money manager you know and trust is a great antidote to stress.

Maybe most important: talk with your family! Start a conversation with your neighbors and friends! There’s no need to divulge confidential financial or health information, but they—and you—will be relieved to know you’re thinking ahead. You might find they’ve already been wondering what the future could look like.

Once you’ve done your homework, go ahead and take that cruise. You’ll have a much better time without a load of anxiety and unfinished business in your baggage.

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Judith B. Clinco, RN, BS, is founder and president of Tucson-based Catalina In-Home Services Inc. and founder of the CareGiver Training Institute.