• Tracy John

Aging Independently

As we grow older, time seems to be on fast forward. We’re aging fast but we’re still busy and many people are continuing to work even after they qualify for Social Security retirement benefits. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics state that the participation rate for people between the ages of 65 to 75 and older is anticipated to increase at the fastest rate. (Toossi & Torpey, 2017). Coincidently, it’s the baby boomers who will be driving this trend in the labor force through 2024. Some of these people will be staying in the workforce due to changes in the Social Security benefits systems. Others recognize that the retirement plans they were looking forward too may not actually meet their financial needs. Some will continue to work in an effort to stay socially engaged. While the reasons will vary one thing is certain, aging independently in America requires planning.

Planning our futures requires effort. It can be quite scary especially when viewed from the perspective of a person who is aging without family or support systems. Whether single by design or dictated by circumstance matters little when the time comes to determine how to survive.

We can all talk about the things we know- We have to take care of our minds and bodies, stay socially active and make friends. If we anticipate living on our own, we can make plans and pay for long-term care policies. It would be prudent to consider relocating to a home that will have access to public transportation in the event that driving capabilities change. While planning and preparation is the key there are other things that are just as important.

No one likes to give up their freedom and independence yet there are times when this occurs. Are you prepared? Have you made your wishes known? Have you made plans for people who you trust who can step in and help out if the situation arises? Take the time to determine who would be best just because you have a family may not mean you have someone you feel is capable of meeting those particular needs. If you are going the professional route take recommendations and inform your friends of your decisions. Yes, I realize that will be a bit odd to speak of initially- however, the more you share the more you protect yourself.

While it may seem awkward at first it is the most important thing you can do for yourself. It’s imperative to speak of your wishes, write down your preferences and make arrangements for yourself. Living wills, medical powers of attorney and identifying someone or perhaps a few people to assist during a crisis can provide direction in the event you are unable to speak for yourself. Planning is a key but it cannot solve the whole problem. I have seen what happens when people are proactive, given the knowledge people try to help. Even when due diligence is exercised, the more people in the loop the less chance that your wishes are not abided by.

A family friend Bob (73) was a very wealthy gentleman with no family. He lived a very active and independent life. He collapsed one day and slipped into a coma. His prognosis was not good and he was unable to communicate what he wanted. Fortunately, Bob had spoken to many of his friends about his preferences and what he wanted to be done with his considerable estate. He had designated that his attorney is responsible to make these life decisions for him and to be the executor of his estate if something happened to him. The thing is, money does weird things to people. The attorney, he designated did not abide by his wishes. He put him on life support, which was against his DNR. The attorney generously paid himself stipends from the estate. When Bob did not appear, his friends began to check on him. They learned of his plight and tried to visit him in the hospitals but the attorney kept moving Bob from one facility to the next in an effort to keep his friends from interfering.

Thankfully, Bob had spoken openly with his friends about his wishes. That was his saving grace. Word spread that Bob’s wishes were not being carried out and his close friends took action. While it did take some time, Bob had handled everything correctly and to the best of his ability. His friends looked out for him and ensured that his estate was distributed according to his will.

Conversely, Ruth (58) an acquaintance never had any children and was alone. She worked as a bus driver in her later years to keep busy but did not have any close family or friends nearby. She started having cognitive problems that eventually meant that she couldn’t perform her designated duties. Dementia took its toll on Ruth without any ability to make decisions, her extended family cleared out her assets and she ended up in a nursing facility. Her social circle had deteriorated as her disease progressed and she had not prepared for her future. Ruth’s decline was not pretty, she had the means to sustain a comfortable life had preparations been made and people informed. Instead, she went to a nursing home to live out the remainder of her life alone.

The circumstances of both of these stories are meant to provoke thought. Whether you are self-sufficient and capable of making sound decisions now, or you believe you are too young to face these topics remember, “life happens” whether you plan for it or not.

Works Cited

Toossi, M., & Torpey, E. (2017, May). Older workers: Labor force trends and career options. Retrieved from United States Department of Labor; Bureau of Labor Statistics: