Solo aging: Eyes wide open
Aging comes to us all. What makes solo aging different is the need to be more proactive about arranging for help. Twenty-two percent of older adults acknowledge they will need to take care of themselves. (Even if you are partnered now or have children, you are wise to consider the possibility of solo aging because, well, things can change … death, divorce, estrangement. In that light, we are all potential solo agers.)
Successful solo aging requires that you
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Getting rid of your stuff
Once you get beyond the sentimental value of your belongings, you are still up against the logistics of how to get things out of your nest. Some stuff is easier to pass along to family than other stuff. Options for what's left over: Sell, donate, or just "get rid of it!"
Start with family. You may have strong emotions about certain items. It may be disappointing, however, to find that your kids don't feel such attachment to family heirlooms. Generally speaking, the younger generation is not interested in furniture (even antiques), books, china, silverware, crystal, Persian rugs, or embroidered linens. If there's a special story attached, that may be a hook. For family photographs, ditch the physical albums by digitizing photos and creating online albums.
Selling it yourself. Give yourself plenty of time so you're not hurriedly making deals at prices you later regret. A yard sale? That's a lot of work, and you might not sell everything. That said, it can be a fun way to meet the neighbors or say good-bye if you are relocating. Alternatively, put ads on craigslist.org, nextdoor.com, or Facebook Marketplace. Items move more quickly if you provide photos and detailed descriptions. Be prepared for phone calls, appointments, and no-shows. If you have specialty items, consider giving them an even wider buyer audience by enrolling to sell on eBay.com. But you need to be prepared to ship your items. (At the least, eBay is a way to get a sense of the going price.)
Having others sell it. Professional sellers will take a commission of 30% or more, and they may need to reduce prices if your goods aren't moving. You might opt for an estate sale at your home (items from other households may be included). Auction houses take only specialized items. Consignment shops accept what they think will sell, but they'll showcase only for a limited time, and then you have to take items back. Liquidators take everything, including the junk. Depending on the value of the good things, you may need to pay them. (For going prices, check out prices4antiques.com for antiques; biblio.com or bookgilt.com for books; replacements.com for specific patterns of china, crystal, and silverware.)
Donating. For big batches, nonprofits such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army will come and pick up. But they might not take everything. (They know what sells and what doesn't.) Contact local shelters as they often have need of most any household item you want to give away. Ask for receipts so you can take the donation amount off your taxes. You can also post on buynothingproject.org to give away items that would otherwise go to the landfill.
Get help. If this all seems daunting—it is! Consider the assistance of a senior move manager, especially if time is limited. We can help with that.
Are you "right-sizing"? Want experienced assistance?
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Change is the only constant. And as we enter our later years, it seems the changes are more frequent. Before writing Life Is in the Transitions, Bruce Feiler interviewed 225 individuals to gain a sense of the ways people navigate disruption across the lifespan. He found that we experience roughly thirty-six transitions in a lifetime, averaging one every twelve to eighteen months. Often several pile up at once, especially when we are older. Common transitions for older adults include a shift in health or ability, a marital change (death or divorce), a new housing situation, or a drop in expected income.
There are general phases to transitions. One phase is the "long goodbye," our reconciling with the fact that one aspect of our life is irrevocably coming to a close. Another is the "messy middle"—figuring out how to find balance in the chaos of change. And the third is the "new beginning," embracing a new way of living.
Here are seven strategies Feiler suggests using during a transition:
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The most common reason to move in later years is to be closer to children and grandchildren. Regardless of your reason for relocating, unless you plan to live with family, there will be many hours of the day when you are just plain newbies in town. How will you spend your time?
If proximity to younger kin is compelling your thoughts, clarify the role you want to play and see if it's a shared vision. If you have hopes they will help as you get older, be sure to discuss that, as well as any childcare expectations they may have. Also think through if they need to relocate (e.g., job transfer), what will you do then?
Relocating can be a late-life adventure of discovery. Some issues to consider:
Optimal timing: As soon as possible! If you know a move is in your future, don't wait. Research shows successful transitions occur when you relocate while you still have the ability to get around easily and establish a strong social circle. Plus, decluttering is not easy. Even with hired help, packing up and unpacking is taxing—physically and emotionally.
Are you considering a move?
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"My kids treat me like a bank"
When an adult child asks for money, it's hard to say no. You want to respond to a need. But perhaps your child perceives that you don't need all you have, or that they're simply requesting some of their inheritance, just a bit early.
Before you answer, ask for time to think it over. You want to make a decision based on wisdom, not emotion. You also need time to discuss this with your spouse, if you have one.
Here are some factors to consider:
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Adding smart home safety features
You probably already have some "smart" features in your home.
For instance, a thermostat you can program for a higher temp during the day and lower at night. Perhaps it has remote capabilities, so you can make changes from afar.
Or sensors, such as garden sprinklers that shut off when it's raining, or outdoor lights with motion detectors.
The most-recommended safety features for older adults include the following:
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Is cohousing for you?
Cohousing is like a retirement community in that it is a group of residents in individual, private domiciles. Plus, there are shared facilities for group activities. What's different is that retirement communities are created and run by a developer.
Cohousing communities are created by the people who will live in the buildings. All members hold an equal investment—personal and financial—in the process of creating and running the community. Decision making is shared and is usually by consensus.
Cohousing is the most ambitious of the housing alternatives for older adults. Cohousing is legally operated as a condominium with a homeowner's association. But the intention is to provide much more of a group experience. A community typically begins when a few founding partners assemble like-minded people with a vision. The group buys a piece of property and remodels or builds from the ground up. The layout specifically supports social interaction. A central common space is designed to host periodic group meetings and meals. Living units are small. Parking is on the periphery. Gardening is communal. From architecture to landscaping to decision making, the group determines everything. Residents also participate in maintaining the community once it's built and everyone has moved in.
Communities can be as large as forty households or as small as two or three. And they don't have to be built from scratch. Some groups purchase a large, old house and remodel. Others buy an apartment complex or a mobile home park and add the communal elements. Many communities are "all ages," but some organize specifically for those age fifty-five and older.
Caring for members as they age is challenging. As residents age and lose physical or mental abilities, they may not be able to maintain their participatory role. Over-fifty-five communities, especially, need policies that address who will care for ailing residents and who will take up the slack in terms of their communal duties. The balance between older and younger members requires careful monitoring.
Cohousing is not for everyone. It's certainly not for those with dementia or health challenges going in. And it helps to be a relatively young older adult, since it takes an average of three to seven years to assemble a community. Cohousing also tends to be expensive. But if you are an innovator, like your privacy yet are attracted to communal living and group decision making, it can be an excellent way to offset the isolation of aging in place. Learn more about existing communities or how to start one, at the Cohousing Association of the United States.
Interested in alternative living arrangements?
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October 15–December 7 is Medicare's annual "open enrollment" period. This is when you can switch plans. Are you getting a lot of mail about the cost savings of Medicare Advantage (MA)? The initial outlay may seem less than your current plan. And if you have "original Medicare," plus a supplemental plan for the 20% Medicare doesn't cover, and prescription coverage, bundling it all together is tempting.
Contrasting the options. There is no doubt that having facilities (Medicare Part A) and providers (Part B) and prescriptions (Part D) all through the same company offers simplicity. In theory, one payment covers everything. There's no need to shop for supplemental insurance or track whether the insurer paid its part of a bill. But it's not an apples with apples comparison. MA plans have some serious drawbacks:
No looking back. If you leave a supplemental program paired with original Medicare, there may be no way to return. The plan may no longer be offered. Or you may fall within a "preexisting condition" category that allows the plan to refuse you or significantly raise rates.
If you are considering a change, even from one MA plan to another, be sure to compare apples with apples by running through some hypotheticals. What would your out-of-pocket expenses be if you were hospitalized? Or in skilled nursing? Are your favorite doctors and hospitals in the network? What if you were traveling and got sick or injured? What are the likely costs by the end of the year for the medication you currently take?
Need Medicare advice? Let us point you in the right direction.
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If you are like 68% of grandparents, you live too far away for regular interactions with your grandchildren. No reading bedtime stories or soothing little tears. No ticklefests or hands-on projects. These casual yet meaningful activities just aren't an option.
Video visiting helps. But according to Kerry Byrne of The Long-Distance Grandparent, you can count on only about a minute of video engagement for every year of your grandchild's age.
Here are some tips for building an online relationship:
Interactive apps that might be of interest. The "Longevity Explorers," a grassroots group of tech-savvy seniors, recommends these apps for their high interactivity. The parents will need to download a version too in order for these to work.
Let us help you stay connected. Call 203-826-9206.
Aging in place: Pros and cons
A vast majority of older adults (77%) say they want to remain in their own homes as they age. Of course! Home is comfortable: We know where everything is—in the house, and also in the neighborhood and town. Friends, doctors, grocery store. We know how to get around quickly and easily. Plus, the emotional benefits of memories, identity, and history are baked into the walls of a home.
But for many, the concept of staying put is based on how things are now and doesn't factor in the changes that are bound to come: The need for help with shopping and meal preparation, housekeeping and repairs, yardwork, and transportation. And in the very last chapters of life, assistance with personal care such as bathing, dressing, and continence issues.
There is also the possibility of dementia (33% for persons 85 and older), which may prompt a need for help earlier than imagined. And with that, the fact of care providers coming in and out of the house.
If you plan on aging in place, it may be necessary to
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Leslie Alin Tewes is a Geriatric, Disability & Medical Care Manager; Elder and Adult Care Advocate; Quality Improvement Specialist.