Late Life Issues are Vital to Caregivers

July 8, 2022 – By Anna M. Rappaport, WISER Board Member

Caregivers often face unpleasant surprises later in life. Many people retire without considering the challenges that they – and those who help them – may face 20 years later. In the first 20 years of retirement, many retirees lose family members, suffer physical or mental decline, or face other life changes. More specifically, these changes can include:

  • Family changes: death or divorce, loss of a family member who previously provided support.
  • Health issues: many diseases can occur late in life as the body wears down and becomes less resistant to disease.
  • Physical limitations: decline of sight, hearing, speech, or mobility; limitations in the use of limbs or hands.
  • Cognitive decline: this can occur gradually, making it difficult to identify.
  • General Slowdown: this happens to us all at different rates.

People often face some of these same issues after they experience a disability. These changes may result in the need for a caregiver or more challenges to your caregiver and support network.

Finding Resources

Many people and their caregivers are not aware of the wide variety of resources to help as these changes occur. The Late-in-Life Decisions Guide by the Society of Actuaries and Financial Finesse provides a roadmap to prepare for changes and emergencies. It provides an overview of the types of decisions that people may face, questions to ask, and ideas for finding help. It covers four change categories: health, housing and transportation, managing finances, and building a support network. This final category is vital.

Building a support network

Caregivers may include family, friends, and other community members. Some perform specific tasks and others serve as advocates and identify what needs to be done. For some fortunate people, there is a natural support network of capable and nearby family members. The family members can provide help and oversee the professionals who are helping. They may also be good advocates.

Others are less fortunate and building a network can be a major challenge. Some are aging alone with no available family members to help them. These “solo agers” must find support from friends and professional sources. Some researchers have estimated that 22% of Americans over age 65 are solo agers.

There is a wide variety in the types of help needed. Often the need for help gradually grows, increasing strain on the support system. Some people need help with transportation, household chores, shopping, and errands. Others will also need caregivers to help with personal care. Some need help managing day-to-day finances and paying bills, making medical appointments, listening to what the doctor is saying, and asking the right questions. Some need help managing prescriptions and taking their medications. Some need help from a caregiver for a few hours a week whereas others need help 24 hours a day. Most people want to stay in their homes as long as they can.  Having suitable support and housing that supports aging are a big help in doing this.

There are a variety of different types of helpers and different ways to find them. Networking with others is often a good way to find modest amounts of help. Its best to know where to go for help before there is an emergency.  Areas Agencies on Aging are a good way to find organizations that offer services in a specific geographic area.  Churches, neighborhood organizations like local departments of aging, and senior villages may also be good sources. Villages are groups of local seniors who band together to network, identify resources, and help each other stay in their homes.  There are also professionals who provide various types of help.

Our lives change during retirement. Eventually, this means dealing with the onset of limitations. It is possible to prepare in advance and make life easier when things have changed. Identifying resources that can help and using them early on improves the chances of a successful retirement and can provide smooth transitions when they are needed.

Anna M. Rappaport is an internationally recognized expert on the impact of change on retirement systems and workforce issues. Following a 28-year career with Mercer Human Resource Consulting, Anna established her own firm, specializing in strategies for better retirement systems. 

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