On Tuesday night Seth and I went to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum for a presentation sponsored by UBS on Planning for Longevity: Aging and its financial implications. UBS developed the presentation in collaboration with Johns Hopkins and their Center for Innovative Care in Aging.
The hors-d’oeuvres and wine were excellent and the presentation was fascinating. Kathleen M. Pritchard, head of business development for Legg Mason Global Asset Management spoke knowledgeably and fluently about a subject that she knows from both a personal and professional perspective.
At the start Ms. Pritchard asked the audience how many people wanted to remain in their homes through their retirement and until “end of life.” A majority raised their hands. We were not among them, of course, having ditched the family house two years ago for a condo in a retirement community.
In the State of Denial
The State of Denial is populated by people who plan to remain active and mobile, in full possession of their faculties and engaged both mentally and physically with the world around them until they die suddenly—and happily—in their sleep. If only. Denial is a very comfortable state in which to live as long as the real world does not intrude.
The real world is, of course, a very different place that includes unpleasant illnesses like dementia, heart attack, stroke, and cancer. Also broken bones, glaucoma, osteoporosis, arthritis and other maladies that affect one’s visibility and mobility. These conditions require medical care as well as assistance with the daily tasks of living.
The flip side of planning to remain in your home is believing that your children will take care of you. When, however, Ms.Pritchard asked how many people wanted their children to bathe them and take them to the bathroom no hands went up.
In the State of Denial it is possible to say, “That won’t happen to me” and believe it. Ms. Pritchard pointed out that this attitude flies in the face of both common sense and experience. Often that experience with our own parental units is painful enough that the adult children say, as we did, “I’m not going to do this to my kids.”
I have never understood the desire to remain in one’s home no matter what. The term for this is “aging in place” and to me that sounds like being petrified. I would much rather be with people in a secure environment with lots of social interaction and activity. Give me Auntie Mame in Manhattan over Edie Beale in Grey Gardens any day.
You Can’t Go Home Again
My dad was different. We lived in the home where he grew up and he stayed there alone after Mom passed away. He had aortic stenosis, a condition he accepted in comfortable denial that it would truly have a real impact. When it began to affect his mobility and caused him to black out he opted for valve replacement surgery–years after he should have done it. Sometime during the operation he suffered a stroke. He went to sleep fully ambulatory and woke up with the left side of his body paralyzed. He spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
As he recovered Dad moved from hospital to rehabilitation center to nursing home but all he wanted was to return to the house in Somerset again. We knew that couldn’t happen because his house was not wheelchair accessible and could not be renovated to accommodate a wheelchair. This, however, was something Dad had to experience for himself. So one day we gathered two sons in law and three grandsons to take him home for a visit.
The house has no garage and there’s no sidewalk on the street. Together the five men hauled him and his chair out of the car and up the stairs into the house. It was a major effort. Once there he could not go into his bedroom because the doorway wasn’t wide enough. He also could not go to the bathroom because the hall was too narrow. And climbing over the bathtub for a shower would have been impossible. We spent some time in the house there and then the men hauled him out to the car. Once returned to the nursing home he had to face the reality that he would never go back to the house where he had grown up.
Eventually we moved Dad to an assisted living facility where he had a wheelchair-accessible unit and lots of company. The staff at Sunrise of Wayland took very good care of Dad but he continued to deteriorate, going into and out of a rehab facility until he finally passed away.
You see, there’s nothing neat and dignified about this process and sticking your head in the sand is not a strategy for dealing with it.
@LeggMason’s Ms. Pritchard went through the six housing options: aging in place, 55+ independent living community, continuing care retirement communities, assisted living facilities, skilled nursing facilities, and sub-acute rehabilitation. She discussed the requirements,benefits, drawbacks, and cost of each. Once again she asked the audience how many people still wanted to stay in their homes. No hands went up.
If you have thought about retirement, whether in the near or distant future, and how you’re going to deal with the housing component, do some research on Legg Mason’s Literature Library. Download the booklet on “Aging and Its Financial Implications: Planning for Housing.” It contains a wealth of information including options, tools and resources like worksheets and cost calculators, steps to take today and a list of references—websites that help with a wide variety of issues. Do the math yourself.
Ms. Pritchard concluded, appropriately, with a quote from John F. Kennedy: “The time to repair your roof is when the sun is shining.” President Kennedy never grew old enough to face these issues but most of us will. Make a plan when you’re able and functional and you won’t have to live unhappily in the State of Denial. Nor will your kids have to deal with the consequences.