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You've seen them in commercials, whether for vitamins, retirement communities or a health club: A group of friends, silver-haired but model-thin and in top health, stride energetically across the golf course, or sit around the pool looking great in their swimsuits. They hop out of their RVs to go rock climbing with their grandchildren. They dance the night away.
This is the expectation many of us have about our senior years. No rocking chair for us! If we take care of ourselves, eat right, exercise and follow a healthy-aging lifestyle, we will surely escape the disabling conditions faced by previous generations, right?
The reality is, no matter what steps we take to avoid chronic illness and disability, there are no guarantees. Consider a recent analysis by the U.S. government revealing that nearly 40 percent of people aged 65 and older are living with at least one disability. According to the "Older Adults With a Disability: 2008-2012" report, these seniors are challenged by declines in hearing, seeing, memory and mobility. Many have difficulty walking and climbing stairs. Many are challenged by getting to the doctor's office or shopping, and by self-care tasks such as bathing and dressing.
While these predictions are sobering, they shouldn't discourage us from making lifestyle choices that promote healthy aging. Instead, the numbers should motivate us also to include the possible need for care in our retirement planning. Said demographer Wan He of the U.S. Census Bureau, "The statistics provided in this report can help anticipate future disability prevalence in the older population. The figures can be used to help the older population with a disability, their families and society at large plan strategies and prepare for daily life tasks and old-age care."
Consider that many chronic illnesses—such as arthritis, osteoporosis and vision loss—cause disability, but don't necessarily shorten our lives. If we're lucky enough to live to a ripe old age, we'll continue to wish for good quality of life, no matter our health challenges. So it's important to create a plan for whatever the future brings us:
Get your legal and financial ducks in a row. With the help of your attorney and/or financial planner, learn about strategies and sources of payment for healthcare and long-term care, such as Medicare, Medicaid, retirement accounts, reverse mortgage and privately purchased long-term care insurance. Organize your financial affairs and create advance directives for healthcare.
Share your thoughts with family. Let them know about the plans you are making and your preferences for care. Earlier is better than later when it comes to having those conversations—especially concerning who would provide care for you, and who would make financial and healthcare decisions for you if you were unable to do so.
Give your home an accessibility checkup. It's never too soon to consider whether your current dwelling would work if you or your spouse were to become disabled. Would you be able to get into and around the house if you were unable to climb stairs? What modifications and improvements could make life easier if you had arthritis or visual impairment? As you plan, you'll be pleased to discover that today, the emphasis is on "universal design" that creates an accessible home for everyone, with clever elegance in place of an institutional look.
Learn about support services that would allow you to live life to the fullest even if you're living with a disability. Check out your local senior and disability services agency. Far in advance of the time when you might need them, find out about retirement communities, assisted living, long-term care and memory care facilities in the area. And don't forget that much supportive care can be provided in your own home. Skilled home nursing services and adaptive home medical equipment are available. And lower-cost, nonmedical in-home caregivers can provide:
For many seniors, professional in-home care is the ingredient that allows for maximum independence and highest quality of life. For extra peace of mind, hire through a reputable agency that performs background checks, handles taxes, carries liability insurance and can arrange for a backup caregiver if necessary.
It's important to plan—not only for the future we want, but also for the future that life might bring us. Living with a disability doesn't mean living an unfulfilled life. If you plan ahead, your future self will thank you, no matter what the future brings!
Prepared by the U.S. Census Bureau, the "Older Americans With a Disability: 2008-2012" report was commissioned by the Division of Behavioral and Social Research at the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health. Download the full report here.
For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn.
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