Being Proactive

Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many. ~Author Unknown

I have a question — a serious question — and I hope someone older (or just wiser) can give me an answer.

When should the average person start prepping for old age?

Now I’m not talking about finances. I assume most people, as soon as they enter the workforce, start saving money for retirement and such.

Nor am I talking about health. Most of us probably try to eat right, exercise, sleep, and get medical tests and procedures when they’re recommended.

I’m not talking about career either. I assume most people either settle in to a job they like (or at least can tolerate), work for themselves, immerse themselves in hobbies, or have the luxury of not working (rich spouse? trust fund? lottery?)

What I’m talking about is living arrangements.

Because whether you choose a retirement community, single-family house, apartment, or condo, eventually you’re going to be stuck.

Unwilling (or unable) to select another option.

And it seems prudent to me to choose while you have the ability to, rather than have somebody else choose for you.

Parceling out your belongings. Forcing you to downsize. Or moving you to where you know no one, just so they can visit once in a blue moon.

Perhaps because my elderly mom lives with me, I’m more attuned to issues of aging. I want to learn from her choices and not make the same mistakes.

Like refusing to plan.

It’s obvious some people are old at 40. Maybe they have health issues and it’s a challenge for them just to get by. Others, at 90, are still driving, participating in activities, and enjoying life.

But life is short and things can change fast. The spouse you counted on suddenly dies. The kids take a job clear across the country. You slip on the ice and break a bone. Or you start forgetting everything and get diagnosed with dementia. Or cancer.

Most healthy, rational 40-year-olds don’t need to relocate to a retirement community, and there are plenty of 50-year-olds not ready to retire. But if you don’t plan on retiring until you’re 70 or so, how do you avoid getting stuck??

19 thoughts on “Being Proactive

  1. Well, I’m in a place now where I imagine I’ll be until they take me out feet first, especially since there’s no way I can afford assisted living, etc. But deciding to move from my third floor apartment to a small ground level place was partly due to the “what if” factors you listed: illness, broken bones, general aging, and so on. It’s much, much easier to cope with a ground floor apartment. And where I am is close enough to a grocery store and Walgreen’s that I’ll be able to drive, even when my driving is reduced to daytime-only-and-not-very-far.

    In truth, I don’t feel ‘stuck’ at all. I wish I’d been smart enough to make different financial decisions early on, but deciding to start my own business at 40 changed things a lot; I lived on savings for about three years until I started turning a real profit, and I gave up 401Ks and such. Still, I’ve been extremely healthy, so I have that one my side. I’m glad, since I’ll have to keep working as long as I can.

    On the other hand: it’s pretty darned hard for me to realize I’m 73. I listen to all the ads and radio programming targeted to ‘seniors’ age 55 and above, and just giggle.

    • What a thoughtful, thorough response you’ve given me, Linda — thank you so much! I suppose I might be worrying needlessly, as I hope I’m far from all these potential problems, but my mom and I have been going round and round over the disposition of her “stuff,” with no resolution in sight! Part of me is angry that she has this cavalier attitude: “oh, you girls can figure it all out after I’m gone.” The other part of me springs into high gear, doing whatever I can so my own son won’t have to face the same sort of nonsense from me!

      I guess I’m just wired to fear poverty and illness, probably a result of choosing careers that are notorious for scanty pay. You’re right: working for yourself is freeing in so many ways, but the lean days (years?!) are a definite drawback. Thank you for your encouragement — I can do this!!

  2. My parents bought a house they can manage over 20 years ago. One level, smallish, a bathroom they remodeled that has a seat. They are both in good health–in fact, my Mom’s new Doberman puppy will arrive in just a few days. But if they need help, they could have in-home health care. Fortunately, they have excellent insurance.
    My great aunt, who I helped relocate, refused to do anything to make her home livable when she could no longer manage it the way it was, including moving her bedroom to the first floor and remodeling a bathroom that would work for her. Everything needed to stay the same. She insisted she wanted to keep her home, but her actions did not line up with her goal. And because of her stubbornness (or grit, or tenacity), she left us no choice but to find her a safe, caring place to live.
    I’ve heard great things from families that have used Senior Advisors to help talk to loved ones about planning for the future. Sometimes hospitals offer this service for free. It seems to help when the senior can talk to a person that is not family. And it may help family members manage their anxiety.
    Getting old is not for the faint of heart. <3

    • Katybeth, you have very wise parents — congratulations on the new puppy! However, your great-aunt sounds sneakily like my mom. Two huge houses separated by hundreds of miles, both stuffed with furniture and memorabilia, and no inkling of what to do with either of them. On top of that, she doesn’t drive, so she’s dependent on her two kids to shuttle her back and forth between them. Grr!

      Good advice on getting someone outside the family to speak frankly to our seniors about their future. It’s easy to say you want to stay in your own home, but the questions arise: Is it safe? Are there banisters on the stairs? Can you even get up and down the stairs? Can you still cook? And clean up? And on and on. Yep, getting old isn’t the piece of cake everybody would like to think it is!

  3. Great post topic, Debbie! Me personally, I’ve always rented apartments and have never owned. And for me, that works. I don’t like taking care of a home, I would rather call up the maintenance dept. and have them fix whatever is broken. Also, I have always lived in very small apartments (studios) with a minimal amount of stuff. I am truly the definition of “minimalistic”—always have, always will be. And for me, that works. I don’t ever extend myself financially by purchases things I don’t need, so I don’t have credit debt.

    I’m 64 years old. I take care of my health as best as I can, but I don’t obsess over it. I do what I can as far as planning for life, but I don’t worry about it because I know from my own life (and my parents life), that something can come along and suddenly change everything. My father planned his whole life for retirement and the life he imaged as he got older. And do you know what? None of what he planned came to be because life threw him a huge curve ball in his later years that derailed everything he planned for and he had a very difficult time accepting it because he thought that he did something wrong, which he didn’t. It was just life.

    I know this sounds corny, but I honestly live my life in the moment, and as it comes. I don’t live foolishly or carelessly, but I also realize that anything can happen.

    Again, great topic, my friend! You gave me some inspiration for a possible post on my own blog. So thanks!
    X

    • Ron, I’m always amazed at how much alike we are! I’ve lived in houses, duplexes, and apartments, and I’ve got to admit the apartments were my favorite. I, too, don’t particularly enjoy yard work (other than planting a flower pot or a tomato!), I don’t want to shovel snow, and if something breaks or I see a bug, I want to call somebody and make it right!

      My own dad retired fairly young, and he and Mom were able to do some of the things they wanted to … until he got cancer. Then, no matter how much you’ve saved or how much you wish things were different, Life changes, as you said. Planning and dreaming are good, but we never know the future.

      I’ve sparked an idea for your blog?? Whee, can’t wait to read it! Thanks again for your response here — it’s given me lots to consider! xx

  4. I think anytime you start thinking about issues like this, it’s the right time to start planning. So, now is good. My aunt redid her bathroom with wider doors and a walk in shower with no lip last year. She’s planning on staying where she is. I’d like to be in a warmer climate, and we’re in our 60s so now is the time, but husband has other ideas. Probably I should have been talking about this years ago to get him thinking in my direction! :) A few years ago it hit me that I wasn’t a youngster any more and maybe all the places I’d like to live, say a big city in a loft, and in a tiny house, and maybe in the country in Italy and in New Mexico and down in Alabama…maybe I didn’t have enough time to live in all those places so I better narrow it down. If I could, I’d say Italy…but that’s probably just a dream. I’d also live in an RV, but husband has vetoed that. So….maybe I’ll split my time between a retirement community in NM or AZ or UT and the house in Alabama. And start looking at retirement buildings for when I can’t maintain a house.

    And maybe write down what I want so that if I can’t describe it someone at least knows!

    • Dawn, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here — I truly appreciate it. I, too, might like to live in a “friendlier” climate — snow is pretty to look at, but it’s cold to the bone (and tending a Sheltie with dozens of snowballs hanging onto his fur is NOT pretty!)

      It’s funny, but when we’re young and eager for adventure (like living abroad), most of us can’t really afford it. And retirement communities used to not be a thing. Nor did nursing homes, I guess. Let’s hope that by the time we need the next step, somebody will have come up with a workable, enjoyable solution that will let us keep our independence and dignity!

  5. As an older person, I think I can offer the following. When you feel you should start planning that is the time. I know I didn’t even think of retirement until I was 70. I finally moved into a one-story house in 2019 which can accommodate any form of disability. I can’t say I did the move because it was planned. It just seemed to be a good idea to downsize. I think you will know when it’s time.

    • Thanks, John, for your kind response. I’m not at all sure I *need* to be considering long-term, but it can’t hurt. I have a neighbor in her 90s who can no longer go up and down her stairs to the washing machine in the basement. I know another older lady who refuses to sit outside because she’s afraid she can’t get back in her house. And plenty of our seniors no longer attend church because it’s too difficult getting up and down the stairs to the building. (This, despite banisters and even an elevator!) I hate seeing their world shrink, and I know I don’t want that for me!

      Y’all were wise to choose a one-story, smaller place. And you’re fortunate to have each other, too. Thanks for the encouragement — you’ve given me a lot to think about!

  6. It’s a tricky one, Debbie. I know with my own mother she missed the moment. The family home was far too big for her once we’d all gone but she no longer felt able to go through the upheaval of moving to a retirement home, despite all offers of help. It wasn’t so much the physical move that put her off, but the feeling that she’d be somewhere strange that didn’t feel like home. For myself, I’ve been saying for years I’ll make the move while I’m still young enough to deal with change… but I do nothing about it and am not sure how I’ll know before I get to the same point of not being able to face it. Sorry, no help, I know…

    • On the contrary, FF, you sound very much like me! I’m ready and willing to make the change NOW to a smaller, one-level home or apartment, but my mom (who lives with me) isn’t … and I just can’t run off and leave her alone. I’d feel too guilty!

      So I sit here fretting whether she’ll live so long that I won’t be able to change my living accommodations (and then feeling guilty over that, ha!) It’s somewhat comforting to know that others around the world have the same challenges we do in the States. Extending our average lifespan is a good thing, but somebody should have weighed all the ramifications first, don’t you think?!

        • Sometimes I think we’re kinder to our pets than we are to our fellow humans. Not that I think we should just willy-nilly kill off everybody who’s not being productive, for example, but it strikes me as exceptionally sad that we let a person exist in pain with no chance of reprieve. Well, I guess we don’t get much choice, do we, on how we’re born … or how we die.

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