Opinion: A Community Approach to Managing the Cost of Aging

The cost of aging has changed.  Planning for old age used to mean ensuring you had enough income to live a certain lifestyle.  Most retirement workshops had you define your post-retirement lifestyle wish and determine how much money you would need to fulfill those dreams.  Longevity in the new world of modern medicine was discussed only in terms of the additional dollars needed to sustain your income over a longer life expectancy.  What many of us have come to know, however, is that our longer lives often include a period in which significant costs are associated with an age-related need for assistance.

The biggest surprise many individuals and families express when the need for care and help occurs is the fact that Medicare does not pay for it.  There is equal surprise, and much confusion, that Medicaid is not available unless one is without savings.  Those with long-term care insurance plans might be patting themselves on the back right about now, until they realize that their $100 per day benefit will barely pay for many assisted living facilities and is a drop in the bucket if you would rather receive your care at home.  And since 85% of us would prefer to remain in our homes until we die, there needs to be more discussion and more planning around what it might cost for us to do so.

With several thousand baby boomers turning age 65 daily, and the fastest growing group of seniors in the 90+ category, the need for services that address aging at home is keeping pace.  In addition to your yard guy, housekeeper and handyman, you now need to plan for the potential of someone to drive you places, cook for you, remind you to take your medications and help you get in and out of your tub.  For many, these costs will be more than the monthly income they worked so hard to create when doing their retirement planning.   Fortunately, health providers, as well as our State Aging Departments are taking notice and developing ways to help.  Many health care systems are developing home-based programs and patient portals.  Many states are developing formalized State Plans to address these questions.   A variety of elder-related task forces are now discussing these very topics.  Even with these efforts, it is unlikely to be enough for the majority of us.

We must begin vigorous discussion about how our generation and our communities are going to find affordable ways to cover the costs of aging.  Families are spread out around the country, and most neighbors do little more than the occasional wave.  Whether it’s your faith community, your neighborhood association, or your group of old friends, talk needs to be focused on developing systems that offer help to those who need it when the time comes.  “Aging in Community”, along with that old concept of help thy neighbor, needs to be the new buzz term in our respective communities.  We cannot afford the alternative.

Nancy Oriola is a Certified Financial Planner,
Licensed Independent Social Worker, and
Founder of Aging Life Network.

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