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Aging Doesn’t Mean Old: Planning for the Middle Years of Retirement

When people talk about retirement and retirement planning, they tend to focus on two phases: the fun first years of freedom they’ll enjoy after work is done, and the end of their lives when they may need a high level of care. But what about the time in between? If you’re not already planning for your unique needs during the middle phase of your retirement, it’s time to start.  

Thinking About the Middle Years

To do a thorough job of retirement planning and estate planning, you have to think a lot about the last years of your life – how you’ll afford nursing-home care if necessary, who will be authorized to make medical decisions on your behalf, how you want your money divvied up when you’re gone, and so on.

Obviously, these are important questions to answer. But if you’re lucky enough to have a long retirement, you may spend many years in the middle phase – that period when you’re healthy enough to live somewhat independently and do the things you love, and maybe need a little more help than you once did. Have you spent enough time thinking about how your needs might change during that time?

With so many Americans living into their 80s and beyond, there’s a real chance that you’ll spend one-third or more of your life in retirement. Think about a healthy adult who retires at 65 and lives to be 95. They could spend 10 years playing golf and tennis, traveling and doing volunteer work. By 75, that retiree may still be in great health and nowhere near ready to move into a nursing home, but also no longer physically able to do all the things they did at 65. How that retiree planned ahead will determine a great deal about how they experience those years between 75 and 95.

The Big Three Questions, From the MIT AgeLab

There are hundreds of questions to answer during the course of retirement planning. But if you want to quickly assess how thoroughly you’ve considered your future needs around the middle years of your retirement, consider your answers to three specific questions. Dr. Joseph F. Coughlin, the founder and director of MIT’s AgeLab (a research program dedicated to improving quality of life for older people), identified these three questions in his book “The Longevity Economy.” They get at the heart of not just how you’ll afford everything you need, but what kind of quality of life your plans will allow you to enjoy.

  •     Who will change your light bulbs? More broadly, how will you manage all the physical day-to-day tasks in your life? If you live independently, and someday it’s no longer feasible for you to shovel your own steps and carry your laundry up and down stairs, will you be able to hire part-time help? Will you sell your home and move to a building with maintenance services? How will you make sure that your home is safe and comfortable without having to do everything yourself?
  •   How will you get an ice cream cone? This question gets at the issue of access. How will you make sure that you’re able to get to the grocery store or make a spontaneous trip to an ice-cream parlor, if driving your own car isn’t an option? How will you continue to enjoy the little pleasures in life, like an ice cream cone on a hot day, even if you’re no longer able to be completely independent?
  •   Who will you have lunch with? Isolation can be devastating for once social-seniors. How will you maintain a social support system, even if your spouse or friends predecease you? Will you take advantage of community programs for seniors where you live now, or move to a retirement community in a beach town?

The overarching theme of these questions are: How will you maintain your quality of life, once you are no longer able or willing to take care of everything yourself?

Technology and the service economy are already making some tasks easier for aging retirees. Ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft help close the transportation gap by providing door-to-door service. With services like Instacart, groceries can be delivered within a few hours of ordering them. You can even hire someone to clean your bathroom, assemble furniture and even – yes – change your lightbulbs, using Task Rabbit or a similar marketplace service. And presumably, technology will continue to evolve and improve to address the needs of aging seniors.

The financial piece of your retirement planning process is really critical, of course. It’s impossible to predict what kind of social support you’ll have access to down the road, in part because it’s so dependent on the future health of your family members, friends and other contacts. Having adequate financial support in place allows you to afford the services that allow you to live in comfort, including – if necessary – long-term care services.

What can you do to prepare for whatever your retirement brings? To learn more about planning for every stage of your retirement, contact Sachetta Callahan today.

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