As I have seen many of my clients go through three stages of retirement—early, middle, and late—what I often see is that they don’t have anyone looking after their emotional, physical or financial wellbeing during this time. They do not have a support system at a stage of life when they really need one.
Such a support system doesn’t just appear. You need to create it, with intention and awareness, not after you retire but as you approach retirement. It’s heartbreaking for me, as a financial planner and financial therapist, to watch people struggle through this period of their life when some of the struggle isn’t necessary.
A support system involves a number of people. Most of us need a tax preparer, an attorney, and a financial planner. We need a medical advocate, probably one of the most important people in our support system. This is often a family member, and there are also agencies that will provide advocacy and services for seniors.
As you age, you might also need help with housekeeping, bookkeeping, money management, transportation, and shopping. The key is to find trustworthy people to provide this help before you need it.
So many seniors feel that if they don’t talk about aging, then it won’t happen. Or they assume that they can put a support team in place later, when they need it. That is way too late. Because, very possibly, by the time you need support, you are at a place emotionally, cognitively, and physically that you don’t even know you need the help or you don’t have the capacity to put that support team in place.
A major reason to build a support system early is to prepare for the inevitable declining cognitive functioning that comes with old age. Something people rarely consider is having some type of baseline around this. How do you know when you need help? The need is obvious if someone has a stroke or other sudden health event. For a gradual decline, it’s much less clear.
An assessment that we use is called Journey into Elderhood, from Money Quotient, a firm that offers tools for financial planners. It assesses ten different areas, various life functions such as how you rate your speech, memory, driving, and ability to do household tasks. You could do this for yourself. The assessment is meant to be done every three years, which allows you to compare your ratings over time.
I’ve actually started one of those for myself. Even with everything I know and teach, it seems a little silly to do this. Part of me thinks it’s too early. And that’s exactly the time to start. It gives me a good baseline, so maybe ten years from now I can look back and have a good sense of where I might have deteriorated and where I’m still functioning well.
This is important to help us become aware and get past the denial that often operates around our cognitive functioning. To begin to admit that we are in decline can really bring up some strong and uncomfortable emotions. One of the strongest is likely to be fear. None of us wants to go there; no wonder it’s easier to just stay in denial.
Periodic assessments of our functioning can potentially help us break through that denial and begin to admit that it’s a good idea to make some plans. That before we need help is the time to put a support system in place and consider options for future assisted living. Because often, when we wait too long, we end up having no control over the decisions that are made for us.
Check out The Financial Therapy Podcast by Rick Kahler concerning this topic.