Look at just about any advertisement anywhere, in print, on-line, on TV and it is trying to sell you something to make you look younger, reverse the look of aging, preserve what youth you may still radiate. Not much for anyone who wants to healthfully embrace aging. And not too much concern or conversation about it either. I remember my own Grandmother’s 80 birthday party. I was about 30. She whispered to me that “you will feel old for a lot longer than you ever felt young, so learn not to fight with it.” She aged beautifully. I myself have merely aged. And she was right about feeling old a lot longer than feeling young, especially if you have been injured or you simply live as long as she did. She was almost 93 when she died. On my 50th birthday, my grown kids and I did a Class 5, white-water river rafting trip on the Cache la Poudre. For my 60th, we are going to celebrate with a more mellow, water-based family weekend. There are two babies in our family that need to ripen more before we ever subject them to that extreme level of adventure. The key word here is ripen. I am just ripening too. I don’t want to fight aging. I want to gradually mellow into what nature intended all along, an older me. The wrinkles show more when I laugh than when I keep a straight face but I would much rather laugh than not. The body parts I accidentally wounded and injured over the past 60 years sometimes remind me very loudly of how many miles they have taken me. We have a truce about how to keep adding more miles. My knee doctor told me it was my choice, I could play really hard for a little while longer or I could walk really well for a whole lot longer. I like walking just fine. I plan to mellow to a ripe old age. I am going for a walk…
Millions of people will enter retirement without sufficient resources to house and feed themselves for the rest of their lives. This “Silver Tsunami” is coming as the boomer generation enters their senior years. Between 2010 and 2030, the number of older Americans will double, to 72.1 Million. For the first time in history, people over 65 will outnumber children under 5. This past recession destroyed the dreams of a tradional retirement for many. When seniors are no longer employable or capable of working, there aren’t adequate strategies to keep the boomer generation out of homelessness and hunger. In the next 10 years, the “Silver Tsunami” will burden the social services system, tax communities and stress families to the point of collapse.
President Kennedy established Older Americans Month in 1963. Seventeen million Americans were 65 or older, about a third of those seniors lived in poverty. Now, according to a recent Census Bureau report, there are 40.3 million people aged 65 and older. Over 23 million Americans aged 60+ are economically insecure; living at or below 250% of the federal poverty level. According to AARP, in eight years, from 2001 – 2009, the number of Americans aged 50+ threatened by hunger soared by 79 percent, to nearly 9 million people. The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College said in 2013 that more than half of working-age households faced a deteriorating standard of living in retirement.”
According to the California Commission on Aging, the average income of elderly Californians is about $25,500, and Social Security accounts for 28 percent of older Californians’ income. A UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the Oakland-based Insight Center for Community Economic Development estimated that 7 out of 10 elderly Latinos and African-Americans and six out of 10 Asians don’t have enough income to pay for their basic needs. Published in 2012, a Pew Research Center study found that the percentage of people ages 55 to 64 who doubt they will have enough to live on during retirement increased to 39 percent in 2012 from 26 percent in 2009. Meals on Wheels Research Foundation reports the number of seniors experiencing hunger rose 200 percent between 2001 and 2011.
There are deliberate decisions to consider and action steps to take.
First- Figure out where you want to live. Housing is the critical issue. The Internet is filled with lists of the most affordable places to retire. Based primarily on home prices, they also take things into consideration like weather and crime rate. Most of them ignore the desire and need to be near family, friends (caregivers) and facilities (healthcare, recreation/community centers/resources) If uprooting and relocating is an option, try an extended stay at a few places before you fully commit to moving. This is a step you should carefully explore before you retire. Prepare your living space for the long haul; if you plan on staying in your current home, make absolute certain it can accommodate you as your body morphs with age and possibly disease. Unforeseen mobility issues will complicate almost every single activity of daily living; practically every possible thing. Think about steps, stairs, hallways, first floor bedrooms, lighting, kitchen and bathroom cabinets, electrical plugs and switches that you can reach. Ease of bathroom access and functionality is essential. Borrow or rent a wheel chair and see how your activities of daily living work out. Think hard about how much space you actually need and want to maintain. Even if your home is paid off, houses are expensive to heat, cool and maintain. Consider ways your home can provide additional income; rent a room to a college student or another retired person thereby turning it into a source of income for you. If any remodeling or updating needs to be done, do it while you are up for this mentally, and financially challenging process.
Deal with the Directives, wills, etc. (Advanced Directives) Medical and Durable Powers of Attorney. Have these serious,honest and often uncomfortable conversations with your children, friends, family members. Do it now.
Start saving. AARP reports that three out of five households headed by a person 65 or older have ZERO money in retirement savings accounts. Be reasonable about this. Earn potential prosperity from acceptable austerity.
Learn to budget (again) Retired people that live on fixed incomes generally use a combination of Social Security and a pension and/or withdrawals from their 401k or IRA. Occasionally, there may be passive income. Run the numbers now. Create a Long-Term plan and prepare a plan B as well; life can throw costly curve balls.
ALSO- Adjust your expectations. You will not have your parents’ retirement or even the one you were anticipating 10 years ago. Plan to work longer and be creative about producing income and reducing expenses. Be realistic about the life style you want to maintain.
This is not just about me. It is about you too.
This is what I imagine myself saying to my grown kids.
In March, my mom died. She was 78, just 19 years older than me. (TickTock)
The disaster of her death sent my already challenged family-of-origin spinning from our normal gulf of confusion into an uncharted sea of calamity.
In the end, it was a full-blown, ocean-sized Tsunami. I refuse to let my own children, go through the Hell that I am only now, beginning to escape from.
My maternal grandmother’s last spoken words to me (on her death bed,in her own home) over twenty years ago were about a similar, tragic situation.
She warned me, referring to an enormous rift between my cousins, over their mom’s death debacle; “Do NOT let this happen to your children.”
My grandmother was 100% Danish. Her Scandinavian heart was gentle but these words were spoken with a Viking might that meant she was dead serious.
At ninety, she proclaimed to me that now she felt old, and we made a pact that I would not let her be put into an “Old-Folks Home.” (This was 1995, and that is what she called it.) She and her three siblings had struggled fiercely over what to do with thier own mother.
I have decided to take the the sum of these familial experiences and create an achievable plan that will hopefully avoid some of the painful pitfalls I witnessed.
The place you live as you enter the “golden years” will determine much about how this plays out. My mom lived in an elevated, remote beach house. I had tried for the past five years to get her to move to a more accessible, reasonable space to “age-in-place.”
Her excuses were numerous; she stubbornly resisted and stayed put. So to actively embrace the unavoidable, next phase of my life, I have put a contract on a very small duplex.
It has a ground floor unit and an upper floor unit. It needs work. I plan to fix it up, one level at a time. The ground floor level will be an elder-friendly/gracefully-gray space. The upper-level unit can be rented out to produce income or possibly house a care-taker, if that need eventually arises.
I want to do this when my mind and body are still fully functioning. I saw how swiftly my mom’s life-force was altered and in the end, destroyed by disease. I am scheduled to close the day I turn 59.5. I will continue to share this journey with you. Stay tuned…