Engaging with Aging, Part I

Planning Reflection

Adaptability is the name of the game as we age. Gradually we trade active pursuits such as cycling or tennis for activities that are a little easier on the body – maybe golf or pickleball until a sprained thumb or crotchety knee leads us into even quieter activities such as walking or reading. Lengthy travel becomes less interesting – after all, Rick Steves has already been there and can give us the highlights.

Relationships change as well. Over the years, we’ve lost the older cohort of our social network as we’ve grieved the passing of family members and friends, and perhaps a spouse. We might lack the stamina for air travel or long drives, which means a closer and increasingly more intimate set of friends in our neighborhood. As time passes, our social life shifts into a different gear.

Gradual changes in our physical and mental abilities, coupled with changes to our social landscape, bring many of us to consider a more dramatic change – should we move to a residential community that provides built-in care services and new social opportunities? Or should we stay in our home, loyal to our local relationships and activities, deeply appreciative of our gardens and our views and comforted in our established routines?

The Transitional Phase of Aging 

It’s easy to think getting older is all about letting go, but in fact life becomes very dynamic when you begin to experience the physical aspects of aging in earnest. You begin a long period of transition, and changes in both physical and cognitive health can bring unforeseen challenges. Even if you had a front row seat to your parents’ or grandparents’ experience of aging, the reality of aging may feel different and unfamiliar. An open mind and a flexible attitude become as important as staying physically active.

Everyday activities gradually bring with them a sense of challenge. The eager embrace of a grandchild brings worry that you’ll lose your balance and fall. You cherish regular get-togethers with friends for a meal or a game, but sometimes struggle to recall their name to introduce them to a newcomer. If it’s hard to stand for an extended duration to cook, the frozen food aisle becomes your friend. Your doctors retire – lucky them! They were already younger than you, and now your new doctor hardly seems old enough to have finished their residency and isn’t yet familiar with the nuances of your health. With patience, you can bring them up to speed over the course of several visits, and rebuild a sense of care and connection.

Towards the end of this transitional phase, you may encounter issues with aging that you can’t resolve on your own. You realize you prefer that someone else drives at night when you can’t see well, or when you find the traffic flow too fast on the freeway. You grow tired of those frozen meals, even the good ones, and it’s hard to summon the energy to keep the plants on the patio watered even as you hate to see them wilt. Maybe your medications are shifting frequently to manage blood pressure, or you can’t remember what you agreed to do when you were in the doctor’s office. What now?

Expanding Our View of Assisted Living 

The phrase “assisted living” commonly refers to an apartment-like community in which a large group of aging seniors have access to services that address the more challenging transitional issues. Physical limitations are what most often prompts a move to an environment that is easier to navigate, or lead us to make modifications to our home. Because It is difficult to know what new arrangement will ultimately be best; a flexible attitude is key.

In the instance of assisted or independent living communities, wide hallways, elevators between levels, and open floor plans support active seniors who use walkers, ride-on scooters and wheelchairs to get around. Meals are provided in a communal dining room or delivered to your apartment, bringing welcome respite from daily cooking. Most have a salon in-house, for haircuts and styling as well as for manicures and pedicures, as well as group activities and transportation support – all within the community.

The idea of “assisted living” can also apply to services you’ll need if you choose to continue living in your current home. Caregivers can be hired to help with the tasks you can’t or aren’t inspired to do, including cooking, driving, and personal care. Having someone regularly available will also help make it possible to get out to doctors’ appointments, to socialize with friends, or host family with a home-cooked meal.

Retaining the ability to socialize is a key element of a rich life when physical limitations increase. Most seniors express a desire to stay in their homes until the end of their lives. To do so, a special effort needs to be made to create opportunities to stay in touch with friends, as well as to meet new people. Despite a reluctance about leaving home that rarely wavers right up to the time of a move, coming into a community increases opportunities for social interaction without that extra effort. It brings the chance of new friendships, and physically energizes seniors who make the change.

Next Steps:  Making It Happen 

When you are in the midst of deciding whether a care community or a modified home environment is the right place for your next phase, you’ll benefit from a spirit of experimentation, but also from working with an expert. None of us have done this before, and the path forward will have unexpected twists and turns. You’ve already had to make a lot of adjustments in your day-to-day routines; now it’s time to experiment with a change either to the environment of your care landscape, or a change to the people supporting you at home.

Over the past decades a new role has emerged in the elder care landscape that goes beyond nursing services, beyond the provision of personal care, and beyond help with light cooking and housekeeping. That is the role of a care manager. They can come in and provide perspective on how serious your specific challenges are, whether they are likely to progress or not, and share possible solutions. They can guide you in considering a move, or considering how to build out at-home services.

Essentially, a care manager can help you decide which turn to take at the fork in the road, and more importantly, why. When you are truly struggling to know how to handle a persistent physical pain or mobility issue, when you are grieving the gradual loss of your ability to do everything you used to do, a care manager can help privilege your particular priorities. The right choice won’t make you younger – but it will help reconcile what you have had to leave behind, and energize you for what’s possible with the right help and in the right environment.

Kate King, CFP - Partner and Chief Investment Officer 

About Kate Campbell King, CFP®

Kate Campbell King is the Founding Partner and Chief Investment Officer at North Berkeley Wealth Management. Kate provides clients with a unique approach to their financial decision-making.

Read more about Kate

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By |2023-06-09T13:21:38-07:00June 2nd, 2023|