Seniors & Aging

Real Life | Aging is different in the 21st century

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If Grandpa and Grandma of just two generations ago returned to re-visit us grandkids today, we’d hear them exclaim in awe and bewilderment: “Being old sure isn’t what it used to be!”

Sure, we knew that, didn’t we? And, by the time our progeny’s turn arrives, the scene will be even stranger.

Grandma had been a stay-at-home mother and stayed there as Grandma, unlike today’s working, traveling, gender-equal, playing, dating, co-habbing, re-marrying dynamo. Grandpa retired to the porch rocker, not to the golf course. And she lived far longer than he did.

They had less retirement income and savings, but needed less, and more often than not didn’t live long enough to run out of money, anyway. Hospitals’ daily charge was $18, and major medical insurance’s $15,000 maximum benefit was plenty. Most public entitlements hadn’t been invented yet.

They lived with the kids, who stayed close and were their caregivers. The “old folks’ home” was the last-resort place to which to banish the indigent, demented and family-less.

You exclaim: “So, what’s the big deal, Gary? Change is normal.”

The big deal is that some of aging’s evolving dynamics bring unprecedented huge challenges, far more formidable than we realize.

Along with many cultural factors, the sociologists blame the big changes largely on our fast-rising life expectancy. The longer we live, the longer we get to enjoy life. But we also have to endure aging’s bedevilments and their cost for far longer, and they’re becoming critically worrisome.

The morality tables during the 1940s era told us that “average” newborns would make it only to age 68. Social Security’s 2010 life expectancy table rewards us a dozen or so more years. Similarly, HeW says that if you’re an “average” guy of today who’s reached 65, you’re headed for 83, 86 if you’re 75 now. Today’s “average” 65-year-old woman is aimed at 85, 87 if you’re 75 now.

Indeed, many of us have gained a quarter-century. Looking forward, our grandchildren well could become centurions.

A 2011 USA report says that today more than half of us become widowed or divorced, and re-marry or commit to significant-other cohabitation partnerships, thus creating the contemporary “blended families” phenomenon.

We create a lot of conflict among step-relatives. Counselors urge us to work introspectively together to identify and resolve the potential family issues about respect, money, favoritism, religion, rivalries and so on, long before forcing the families into an alliance.

The idea is to urgently take care of everyone’s interests and feelings, to communicate with them, listen to their heartfelts, and accommodate their reasonable wishes to prevent the alliance from being flawed, strained and conflictive.

Neglected key issues include financial planning and re-structuring, and agreement about all money matters, to merge both partners’ money worlds, and to assure fairness and equitable financial treatment of both sides’ loved ones. Wasteful duplication abounds, such as in health insurance coverage. We even cause entitlement benefits to be denied or mis-routed because of neglected paper work and planning.

Tragically, many partners’ existing estate plans go under-revised to meet the new circumstances. We witness distributions going to the wrong and no-longer-intended beneficiaries, as well as the new beloveds being legally denied their desirable fiduciary powers.

Early and thorough hard-work planning, professional guidance and new documentation, including nuptial or partnership agreements, wills, powers of attorney, re-titling of assets and pay-on-death designations, beneficiary designations in insurance and retirement accounts, and maybe trusts, are essential.

Family Caregiver Alliance and HeW say that more than two-thirds of us 65-plussers will require long-term care assistance, 75 percent and for a longer time if you’re female. Our society’s lifestyle, our children, and even we ourselves, now direct us toward pursuing life in independent/assisted living and nursing institutions. Whoa! At up to $300 per day for the highest need level, and for only five years of our newfound 80’s-plus life expectancy, that’s $547,500! Ready to write a check for that?

If we’re able to stay at home, maybe with the kids, while we still can handle some of the activities of daily living, hiring weekday daytime home health care aides to keep us from overburdening the kids and forcing them to sacrifice income and time to care for us, plus the necessary paramedical services, that will cost up to $1,000 weekly — a quarter-million dollars over five years.

And that’s not even including the costs of equipment and handicapped-friendly modifications to the house. Even if we can still make it to a care center, many full-service ones charge $75 per day.

It’s interesting to see how today’s health world affects our futures. Along with medical science’s miraculous death-delaying (but increasingly cost-impacted) achievements, and with catastrophic health insurance coverage, Medicaid, government facilities, and HMOs now covering nearly everyone, our comfortable and health-conscious lifestyle, along with better occupational safety, are the driving forces in the longer-living trend.

By 2030, the number of 65-plussers will double. We generally have the same diseases that Grandma and Grandpa had, plus some newly labeled ones, but we have them much longer before they kill us. Besides, because we’re vulnerable far longer, we get more of them.

The future? You guessed it: rocketing cost burdens; tougher eligibility criteria; and/or reduced benefits for health care, health and long-term care insurance and taxpayer-supported entitlements.

We’ll also see lower retirement monthly benefits, because they have to stretch over far more years. More of us will need and qualify for social services, forcing either reductions or increasing tax burdens. And the doctor shortage threatens to become critical.

To achieve actuarial soundness in all of these is costly, but essential. However, to replace deficit funding with increased revenue is career suicide for legislators, government officials and stockholder-elected CEOs.

At least one bright spot? Our kids and grandchildren can enjoy lower life insurance premiums and higher dividends.

So, what to do? Some partially helpfuls:

  • Stay liquid. We’ll need all the cash we can muster.
  • Get serious about accumulating both liquid assets and precious metals.
  • Lean on the politicians and power-house banks to reverse the leverage.
  • Alert the kids to all the above, big time! And learn self-reliance skills.
  • Enjoy long life – might as well!

Contact GARY NEWMAN at gary@gnewman.org. Your ideas and comments are always welcome.

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