By Nicole Duritz
As we gather with family and friends to celebrate the 4 th of July, it’s a good time to think about our own freedom and independence. Many of us want to live with independence in our homes and communities with the care that we want and need, for as long as we can. Is this your desire, too? To manage how you age, it’s in your best interest to have a plan - an “independence plan” that is! The benefits of doing so are many. In fact, your independence plan will:
- Give you more choices down the road
- Allow you to direct decisions that affect you
- Make you feel less overwhelmed by the future
- Reduce the potential of a crisis dictating your future
If you want to expand your possibilities as you age, begin your independence plan by paying attention to the following four areas:
Home and Community
If you want to stay in your home as long as possible, make sure it can support your changing needs and lifestyle. For example, look for ways to make your home safer, more comfortable and easier to get around. Check out a great AARP resource, The Home Fit Guide ( www.aarp.org/ud) to prompt your thinking about home design. Assess your home now so you can explore options and budget for the changes you may need to make in the future.
For some of us, our families are able to help with chores, grocery shopping, companionship and the like as we get older. But others may need to rely more on friends and community members. Now is a great time to expand your potential support network. You can join a faith community or a volunteer organization. In fact, volunteering your time now can strengthen programs in your area so they will be there for you and others down the road.
You’ll also want to explore the support services available to older adults in your community. AARP offers a tool to look up services by zip code and type of support at www.aarp.org/caregiving.
Caring for our physical and emotional health is such an important part of how well we age. I encourage everyone to stay physically active, understand your family health history, manage chronic conditions and obtain the appropriate preventive care. You can find a list of recommended health screenings at www.aarp.org/healthscreenings.
Did you know that adults 45 and over take four prescription drugs each day on average? Help yourself keep track of your medications, and provide important information to future caregivers and your health care providers, by creating a personal medication record. Head over to www.aarp.org/medicationrecord to print a personal medication record that allows you to list what you take and when you take it.
At some point in the future, you may need to hire a paid caregiver or make different living arrangements. Look into the costs of different types of extended care and explore what your options may be for paying for them. The cost generally depends on where you live, the type of care you need and how long you need it. On average a home health aide costs $19 an hour. A private room in a nursing home averages $81,000 a year. Options in-between include moving into an assisted living facility or care through an adult day health care center. It’s important to understand that Medicare does not pay for most long-term care expenses. And Medicaid only covers costs for people with limited means.
There are a number of resources that you may consider for paying for care. Talk with a financial professional about your options.
Planning for your future also means making decisions about how you would want things handled if you’re ever unable to communicate. That way, your loved ones won’t have to guess about your preferences during an already difficult time. This is important for people of all ages because medical emergencies can happen to anyone. Get started by preparing the four documents every adult should have:
- A living will – identifies which medical treatments you want to receive or refuse
- A health care power of attorney – allows you to identify who will make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself
- A financial power of attorney - allows you to identify who will handle your financial matters if you can’t
- A letter of instruction - outlines special requests, such as plans for a funeral and names of people to contact. It also should include important phone numbers, such as your employer and your insurance agent or broker. This is not a substitute for a will, but it helps clarify your intentions.
You can learn more about these documents at www.aarp.org/decide.
To live independently is a desire millions of us share. Celebrate the freedom of mind you receive by having a blueprint for your personal independence. Do yourself a good deed and begin planning today to live your older years on your terms and enjoy the possibilities.
Nicole Duritz is Vice President of the Health & Family issues team in the Education and Outreach group at AARP. She leads AARP’s educational and outreach efforts on health education issues, including Medicare, the health law, prescription drug affordability, long-term care, and prevention and wellness. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.