According to a nationwide survey*, women age 50 and older fear becoming a burden to their families more so than men; 66% of women versus 50% of men are nagged by this thought. More than 75% worry that they won’t have money for what care they may eventually need. Yet more than 60% of women haven’t discussed long-term care with anyone.
What the F.
We don’t want anyone to “worry.” We don’t want anyone even to think of us as becoming a frail old woman who can’t take care of herself. We figure we’ll just take care of ourselves, one way or another. “I’ll just do everything on my own and I won’t need anyone to be my caretaker.”
Did you ever stop to think that your chance of becoming the burden you don’t want to become – of needing a caretaker when you never planned for it to happen and you don’t know how you’re going to manage it – is greater when you don’t do anything to plan for life’s changes than if you do face your fear and do some planning? Did you ever stop to think that life will change – one way or another? Do you really think it can be otherwise?
That’s not to say that one day you’re going to “fall and can’t get up.” That may never happen. You could be strong and healthy and vibrant to the very end of a very long life. But come on, even in a perfect life, one day you’ll come to realize that you’re having a hard time keeping up with everything that needs doing. That you can’t do and take care of all the things you could when you were younger. I felt it poignantly last month when I flew out to Memphis to meet my daughter midway as she drove her last load of belongings from New Orleans to her new home in Cleveland. I knew that my “help” was limited – I was happy to give her moral support, and even help unpack if she wanted me to, but there was no way I was going to be able to carry any boxes up the flights of stairs to her third-floor apartment. Wasn’t it just a few years ago that I was parallel parking a U-Haul truck on Broadway in New York City and hoisting boxes to her dorm room right alongside her? Things have changed.
Life doesn’t have to be one long down-sloping roll into dependency and depression. If you plan for change, you can have a say in your outcome. You can maximize happiness. You can protect assets. You can take care of yourself, even when you come to require the assistance of others with some aspects of your life.
You owe this to yourself. And as a woman, you owe it to your “sistahs” in life – your daughter or your sister or your niece or your young friends. After all, the job of caregiver typically goes to a daughter who herself is likely to be a sandwich-generation mom, or the responsibility is spread among a team of sisters or nieces who have a lot going on in their lives. Yes, you should be cared for if you need help, but shouldn’t you do what you can to need as little help as possible – at least with things that could be avoided had you planned ahead? And don’t you deserve to maintain your dignity and independence on your own terms?
So I’m saying – look into options you might consider in the future, like sharing housing with other women your age. Roommates4Boomers is a good resource for information on shared housing. Find out about groups that advocate for and support Aging In Place. A few years ago AARP published A State Survey of Livability Policies and Practices, which is a good place to start. And talk to a Long-Term-Care specialist – an insurance agent or a financial advisor. You don’t have to buy a policy if you talk to someone. Just find out the facts and the options and the costs. I’m not selling anything here. In fact I’m paying – paying precious money – to a long-term care insurance company every quarter now. But at least in talking with the experts I learned that in some cases, you can have an annuity plan that provides for double benefits if you should become disabled, which can help with LTC costs. For myself, I learned that the best option was to use the money in my Health Savings Account to pay the premiums, so the expense is paid out of money that I was putting into the HSA anyway. (I have a medical insurance policy with a high deductible and a tax-deductible health savings account I contribute to every year that provides the funds to pay for medical expenses that fall into the deductible category – like, practically, all of them.) If I can use that HSA money to pay the premiums, I don’t have to add it as an additional expense to my monthly budget, which eases the pain somewhat. I wish I didn’t have to spend the money that goes toward these premiums, but at least it’s less of a financial burden than I thought it was going to be, and I know that I’ve done what I can to preserve my dignity, come what may, and minimize a potential burden that I might otherwise impose on those whom I love more than anything.
*The survey mentioned above was conducted in 2015 by Harris Poll on behalf of The Nationwide Retirement Institute among 1,291 U.S. adults age 50 or older including 709 females and 582 men.