Aging is an unwelcome topic for many people and in an arguably youth-obsessed culture, it can be difficult to fully embrace one’s age and plan accordingly for the future.
A new poll by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 3 in 10 people over the age of 40 would rather not think about getting older at all and two-thirds say they have done little to no planning for their future.
“On my run today, I said to myself, ‘I’m 50 today, but it’s really the new 40’,” said Linda Jahnke, Owner at Jahnke Consulting and Long Term Care Alliance, noting it was her birthday. “Then I went home and posted that on my Facebook page.”
Mrs. Jahnke is not in denial about her age though—she has worked hard to take good care of herself. “What we tell people now is that it’s not an age thing, it’s a health thing,” she said.
The fact is though that society is determining everything from movie ticket prices to insurance rates based on age and this can make people feel old and create a need to plan ahead regardless of their fitness level.
“There is a lot of discussion around the question at what age are we ‘old’,” said Amy Goyer, AARP’s Family & Caregiving Expert. “When is that? Is it 60? 70? 80? 90? 100? I believe it’s our attitudes about aging that determine it.”
People age differently due to genetics, lifestyle and other factors, but that doesn’t mean they can deny aging just because they look and feel years younger than they truly are. Ms. Goyer, Ms. Jahnke and many other experts agree that one’s choices—from fitness to finances--can affect how well they age. “The choices we make all of our lives affect the way we age,” said Ms. Goyer. “Choices around what we eat, exercise, not smoking, keeping up with health check ups and screenings, having healthy relationships and socialization, learning to be adaptable, nurturing our interests and stimulating our brains are ultimately going to have a strong influence on how we age and remaining healthy and active in our later years.”
It’s the old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” that Ms. Goyer relates to now. Planning and preparing for being older when earning potential and physical abilities may decrease is what Ms. Goyer calls “adaptability.” “Waiting to take an honest look at these things until you are already experiencing problems in any of these areas is probably a mistake,” she said. “Changes will happen as we age, just as they have happened throughout our lives. That’s why I believe adaptability is the most important skill to have as we age.”
For anyone who thinks now isn’t the time to plan ahead, consider that Ms. Jahnke said 40% of long-term care insurance use occurs by people under the age of 60. “I had a small stroke when I was 37,” she said, adding that it took her a month to learn how to write again.
Long-term care insurance is different than health insurance and covers support services for activities of daily living in the home and other facilities.
While people can buy long-term life insurance at any age, the “magic number” is 50, said Ms. Jahnke. “The reason being that in your 40s, you are still dealing with kids, getting them ready for college and there is no discretionary income,” she explained. “In your 50s, things start breaking up a little bit more. In the event of a rate increase, realize that you are considered that age for the rest of your life with that company. From age 50 to 59, you can still get very, very reasonable premiums.”
“It is in life’s transitions—moving into a new community or buying a new house, when the kids leave home, making choices about retirement or savings plans with an employer, choosing insurance—one should be planning for the future,” said Ms. Goyer. “Use these times as opportunities to do some research and understand the options,” she said, referring to insurance choices. “The ideal time is now! You really can’t start too early when planning for your future, even if you are looking at a time when it’s difficult to predict what your needs will be.”
Who you are today is who you will be tomorrow, just older.
Mrs. Jahnke used her own family as an example of the need to plan. “I am not disparaging my parents, but they didn't plan for the future because of numerous obstacles,” she said. Although Mrs. Jahnke is happy to move her parents closer and glad she has the means to do so, the reality is that her parents are lacking the very insurance and type of planning she advises others to get. "You don’t have to convince people like us to plan ahead because we see the unplanned scenario happening with our own parents.”
When the planning can seem overwhelming, step back and consider the goal.
“Quality of life is really our goal throughout our lives and that doesn’t change as we age or get older,” said Ms. Goyer. “Our goals, interests and abilities may change over time, so our measure of quality of life may change, but if your goal is to remain positive and be the most you can be at any age that will serve you well, rather than having a negative viewpoint of the aging process.”
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