Many of us have “been there” for loved ones as they have grown older. It is often through these experiences, at times filled with surprises and challenges, that we begin to recognize the wisdom of planning ahead for our own health, legal considerations, financial concerns, housing, and family issues. We are also living longer, which requires additional creative thinking and planning.
There’s no crystal ball but drafting a road map by planning and understanding resources and supports is a positive step in the direction of taking control of this chapter of your life journey.
Here are a few key areas to consider when looking ahead:
My Community (family, friends, neighbors, neighborhood, and city)
Social networks—friends, family, neighbors—make an important contribution to general well-being and quality of life. Living in a community where you feel safe, that is affordable, and where your goals and needs are met is essential. Ask yourself:
- Who are the family members, friends and/or neighbors I can rely on for support when needed?
- Have I shared my wishes? Do I have someone I can talk to when I need to do so?
- How does my neighborhood and community foster my involvement in civic, economic, and social engagement?
My Paperwork (legal)
Meeting with an elder law attorney is essential to planning. It will help you answer these questions and more:
- Who will I appoint as my attorney-in-fact for health care? For finances?
- What do I want reflected on my advance directive?
- What have I done to prepare for my funeral? Burial? End-of-life celebration?
Elder law attorneys have specific knowledge in counseling older persons about the legal aspects of estate and health care planning, public benefits, and the implementation of decisions concerning such matters.
In Washington, your advance directive protects your right to refuse medical treatment you do not want or to request treatment you do want in the event you lose the ability to make decisions yourself.
Whether you plan to continue to work (full- or part-time), retire, travel, move closer to family, or stay put, you need to understand the financial landscape and how your finances will support your plans. You also need to get a sense of how your finances might be impacted if you have a change in health. Have an assessment done by a trusted financial advisor to answer the following questions:
- What are my assets?
- How long will my money last? Are my plans realistic?
- Are there changes I’ll need to make? If so, what? How?
- What happens if my health changes? Will I need long-term care?
- What is long-term care? Am I prepared to cover the cost of long-term care?
As we age, it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Some of the ways to do this are by focusing on regular exercise, proper nutrition, not smoking, moderate alcohol consumption only, and staying socially active and intellectually engaged. If you have a chronic health condition, following your healthcare provider’s advice can help you stay active and engaged in a purposeful life. This is a good time to think about:
- What are your goals for the future?
- How is your health at present? What can you do or change now to ensure a healthy future?
- How do you like to stay physically active? How do you maintain a positive attitude?
- What are your favorite social and intellectual activities?
Living in King County, some of our topography can be challenging, with hills that require houses to have steep entryways and challenging stairways. And our homes aren’t necessarily designed to support us as we age, especially if we find stairs difficult to navigate, and doorways can’t safely or comfortably accommodate the use of a walker or wheelchair. Lighting is important, as is neighborhood safety and walkability. As we age, it’s also important to review access to healthcare, community resources (such as the grocery store, the library, community center, faith community). Take an honest review:
- Most older adults live in the community and want to age in place in their own homes. Will your home support you as you age?
- Are you able to renovate?
- If your health changes, what are your options for staying in your home?
- If you can’t or don’t want to renovate, are you willing to move? Where?
- If you move, where would you like to live?
Driving is a big consideration as we age. Reaction times, cognition, hearing. vision, and other health concerns need to be considered. Access to reliable transportation is important. Review what alternatives to driving are available to you and ask yourself the following:
- When will you know it’s time to retire the keys?
- What are the types of transportation you use now?
- Do you plan to continue traveling in the same way when you are older?
- What are your options?
- Are you currently using online shopping and delivery services?
- Would you consider taking up or increasing walking and cycling as healthy and active forms of transportation?
Communication is Key
It’s smart to have honest, open conversations about your ideas, thoughts and goals on a regular basis with your support network. Don’t be shy. This takes planning and forethought. You can start with the topics addressed above. If you are worried about how to broach the topic with others, you may want to enlist the support of a social worker, counselor, or care manager. Contact your senior or community center, or call Community Living Connections toll-free at 844-348-5464 to get connected.
Consider attending a workshop! “The Power of Planning: Taking Control of Your Own Aging” is offered five times this fall:
- Friday, September 13: 2:00–3:30 p.m., Shoreline Library, 345 NE 175th Street, Shoreline
- Wednesday, October 2: 6:30–8:00 p.m., Mercer Island Library, 4400 88th Ave SE, Mercer Island
- Thursday, October 10: 2:00–3:30 p.m., Richmond Beach Library, 19601 21st Avenue NW, Shoreline
- Thursday, November 7: 6:30–8:00 p.m., Phinney Neighborhood Association (PNA), 6532 Phinney Ave N, Seattle
Wendy Nathan, BSc, CMC is a Certified Care Manager with Aging Wisdom, an Aging Life Care practice with offices in Seattle and Bellevue. For five years, she has facilitated a support group for the Alzheimer’s Association. She is also a volunteer for the West Seattle Momentia Mix, a monthly event for community members living with memory loss and their family and friends.