If you want to learn how to climb mountains, youre not likely to start with Mount Everest. If you yearn to become a great cook, your first effort probably wont be as chef of a huge dinner party.
For all things that are complicated and worth knowing, it takes time, education, practice, and patience to learn the tricks, absorb the subtleties, and understand whats really involved. So, it’s funny that most of us assume that growing old is easy all you have to do is let the days roll by, right? Wrong!
Poor health makes aging a vastly different story, and few of us prepare ahead of time. Of course its not fun to think about becoming sick, physically or cognitively, or both. However, not thinking about it and not putting into place the systems that will protect us won’t make it go away. It just leaves us more vulnerable, with fewer options and very little control over what happens.
Here are two letters along that line that I’ve received recently:
My parents have had 60-plus years of a good marriage, but theyre now totally miserable. Theyve gone from complete independence to complete dependence in the space of five months, which of course is deeply upsetting. They could have seen it coming if they had thought about it, then prepared, but they refused. Many options they could have enjoyed are now closed to them.
My husband and I didn’t think about our age when we moved into our two-story home a few years ago. It was our dream retirement home on acreage. But now, what started as mild chronic illnesses have become much more disabling and serious. We have no close neighbors, our kids live far away, and everything we need requires a car. We seem to be on our own, and its scary.
How Lucky Are You?
A lot of luck goes into our later years: whether we live long enough to get old, for one, and whether we retain our health and independence, for two.
However, the chances are good that most of us will live to an old age. Centenarians now make up the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, and about 50 to 70 percent of us will need daily assistance someday. (Given what medical science is doing to keep us alive, assume the larger number).
But luck has little to do with whether we can avoid the angst contained in these two letters. Like anything complicated, aging well takes planning.
The ideal age to begin is in your late 40s or early 50s, when youre not in a crisis and can take your time. However, it’s never too late to start. The trick is to do it before calamity falls on your head, like a ton of bricks.
There are many factors to consider, but I think these are the top five:
- 1. How can you make sure the people you trust will watch out for your health, and finances when you become ill?
- 2. Are you living in a home that will allow you to live comfortably as you age?
- 3. How will you get groceries, or visit friends if you can no longer drive?
- 4. Who will care for you when you need assistance?
- 5. How will you pay for your care when family and friends cant’?
Two excellent books to help you begin this journey are Virginia Morris How to Care for Aging Parents, and Joy Loverdes The Complete Eldercare Planner.
What will surprise you is how interesting it is to plan for your aging. The more you know, the more youll see how interconnected the pieces are.
But most surprising is the freedom that planning for your aging gives you (or for a parent who refuses to think about it).
None of us ever has total control over our lives, but there are things we can do while were healthy that will protect our interests when were not. Once you start, I promise, you’ll look at the world differently.