No doubt you’ve heard the expression, “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.” That axiom is usually used in a business setting, but here at AgingOptions we suggest it applies in spades to the arena of retirement planning, especially as it pertains to your later years. That’s often when health crises will strike, sometimes suddenly and sometimes gradually, such as the onset of dementia, and families will find themselves flat-footed and uncertain where to turn. Heading into those challenging later years without a plan is like sailing into a hurricane: you and your family are going to be in for a rough ride.
Last year we discovered this article on the website of Kaiser Health News, one that really captured our notice, and we like the message it contains. The article is called “A Playbook for Managing Problems in the Last Chapter of Your Life,” and it calls attention to two themes we emphasize repeatedly in our seminars and on the radio – the need for better planning as we age, and the need to involve our families and other loved ones in our care. We encourage you to read this piece and see if you agree.
The article spotlights the work of Dr. Lee Ann Lindquist, chief of geriatrics at Northwestern University. Virtually every day, she noticed, she would receive panicked phone calls from family members about seniors in distress as a result of unplanned hospitalizations, injuries due to falls, and the effects of dementia. Loved ones were at a loss, not knowing what to do or where to turn. Dr. Lindquist, says Kaiser Health News, “wondered if people could become better prepared for such emergencies, and so she designed a research project to find out.”
As the doctor stated in the article, “Many people plan for retirement. They complete a will, assign powers of attorney, pick out a funeral home, and they think they’re done.” But she goes on to say that there are critical things that fail to get addressed, including “how older adults will continue living at home if health-related concerns compromise their independence.” In order to help seniors plan for late-in-life challenges, primarily those that typically occur from about age 75 onward, Dr. Lindquist and her associates developed a unique website, called Plan Your Lifespan (www.planyourlifespan.org). As the Kaiser article explains, this website isn’t “end of life” planning – instead, “it’s planning for the period before the end, when health problems become more common.”
Dr. Lindquist and her team, funded by a $2 million federal grant, gathered focus groups of seniors with an average age of 74. The research team asked the seniors what events or crises would make it difficult or impossible for them to remain in their own homes. The subjects listed five: hospitalization, falls, dementia, illness or death of a spouse, and inability to handle home upkeep. Yet even though there was broad consensus on the impact of these five events, researchers noted that most of the study participants had never planned or discussed what they would do if these types of events should occur. When asked why they had never planned for the things they seemed to fear most, the seniors gave a common list of reasons: “I don’t know what to do, I’m uncomfortable asking for help, I’m not at immediate risk of something bad happening, my children will take care of whatever I need, and I’m worried I won’t have enough money.” In other words, these typical seniors were living in denial.
Armed with this information, the research team developed and fine-tuned the website. They narrowed the focus down to the “Big Three” events – hospitalizations, falls and the onset of dementia. What impressed us here at AgingOptions was that the developers made sure the website helped seniors communicate thoroughly with their family members and also plan for the financial impact on their lives should they one day face one of these health crises. In the words of one 74 year old who worked on the project, the website “forces people to sit down and think about their future in a very helpful and non-threatening way.”
The process is both simple and specific. Seniors visiting the website are presented with explanatory information and brief instructional videos, and then asked a series of personal questions. For example, the website might ask which rehabilitation facility the senior would want to go to for post-hospitalization therapy and recovery? Who will care for his or her pets, check the mail and pay the bills? If memory becomes an issue, would the person be willing to wear a medical alert bracelet? Would he or she be willing to undergo a formal driving evaluation? Would they be willing to have someone coming into their home on a regular basis to provide some degree of assistance with activities of daily living or with home maintenance?
The website is not intended to be overly detailed. “The goal,” says the Kaiser article, “is to jump-start conversations about these issues” in much the same way that seniors are encouraged to talk about their end of life preferences. The point, says Dr. Lindquist the study leader, is to give seniors facing a health crisis a voice, instead of having their confused and frightened loved ones making decisions in a vacuum. “That doesn’t have to happen,” Dr. Lindquist says, “if only people would consider the reality of growing older and plan ahead.”
If that sounds exactly like a statement we might make here at AgingOptions, it should. Planning ahead for all facets of retirement is our number one focus, and while you can never consider every possible eventuality, there are certain events and transformations that most seniors can not only anticipate but also plan for. That’s why we developed a unique form of comprehensive retirement planning called LifePlanning. Your LifePlan serves as the strategic document that binds all the key aspects of your future together: your financial security, your legal protection, your housing choices, your health care coverage, and communication with your loved ones. All these threads are woven together into one strong cord. A LifePlan is the type of plan that will allow you to face the rest of your life with confidence and joy.
It’s easy to learn more about LifePlanning. Simply plan to attend a free LifePlanning Seminar coming soon to a location near you. We assure you that you’ll come away armed with extremely valuable information, not to mention the answers to many of your most perplexing retirement questions! We invite you to click here for information and online registration. Or, if you prefer, feel free to call us at AgingOptions during the week so we can assist you.
(originally reported at www.khn.org)