Five Brutal Truths about Getting Old That Few People Are Willing to Admit
1. There are great disparities in how people experience getting old.
In nearly every study, researchers find differences in health, quality of life, and various measures between different socioeconomic groups, races, genders, education levels, etc. Though you can’t control many of these, resources and social support networks are two of the biggest factors in one’s experience of getting old. By planning ahead and staying connected with a support network, you will likely have a much more positive experience as you age. Additionally, each group also has wide individual disparities within it, so you can do many things to influence your personal health and wellbeing in old age.
Talk to elders or their family members in different regions of the country and you’ll also find great variation. Because many programs are state-specific or administered by the state, resources and eligibility vary across state borders. Some of you may be considering which state to retire in or may currently move between areas, so you should know how this might affect you.
What can you do to be on the “winning side” of getting old?
Learn what’s available (and what’s not). Understand the implications behind various decisions, such as state residency and financial and estate plans. Planning now ensures you have greater resources and support later. Contact our experts to schedule a consultation.
Take some lessons from elders in the “blue zones” where staying fit is a way of life. That, plus social engagement and other factors, leads to long, healthy lives.
2. You can’t count on anyone to take care of you.
This may sound harsh. And, we don’t mean to minimize the amazing support families provide to older loved ones. In fact, families provide some 80% of eldercare at home. The value of services provided by informal caregivers has steadily increased over the last decade, with an estimated economic value of $470 billion in 2013. This unpaid caregiving exceeded the value of paid home care and total Medicaid spending in the same year.
However, family caregiving also costs those caregivers dearly. Beyond physical and emotional costs, the actual lost income and benefits averages about $300,000 over a caregiver’s lifetime. This won’t be sustainable for many families. Additionally, your loved ones may not be in the circumstances or physical shape to provide care. You may live at a distance and be unwilling to relocate (or vice versa). None of us can predict the type of and amount of care we might need. Therefore, we can not be sure a loved one could provide that care…at least on their own.
We sometimes hear people making comments about their kids taking care of them when they get older. Or, those not having kids saying they won’t have anyone to care for them. In reality, our clients come to us with all types of family arrangements…yet still having similar care needs. We all need to plan for getting old and not make assumptions.
What can I do?
Get a comprehensive assessment so you’ll know what you might need and what your options are. Have honest conversations with family members. Don’t assume; talk about it. And, do not ask your kids to make promises they might not be able to keep.
3. Getting old means you will lose physical strength, flexibility and balance.
The aging process brings losses in muscle and bone mass and muscle strength decline after age 30. That’s right, age 30! Those changes are pretty small from 30–50, though. We experience pronounced changes after 50, with a 15% average strength loss per decade.
Less muscle means greater weakness and less mobility, both of which may increase your risk of falls and fractures. A 2015 report from the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research found that people with muscle loss had 2.3 times the risk of having a fracture from a fall, such as a broken hip, collarbone, leg, arm, or wrist. Flexibility and balance also decrease with age. Balance and gait disorders result from many age-related conditions.
These changes come from various mechanisms in the aging process, especially the reduction of certain hormones. But, the rate of muscle loss is also heavily influenced by other illnesses/overall health, activity level and nutrition.The primary treatment is exercise, particularly weight-bearing exercise.
The Dallas Bed Rest study illustrates the importance of activity. After three weeks of bed rest, these young, healthy participants developed physiological characteristics of men twice their age. An eight-week exercise program, however, did more than reverse the deterioration with some improvements over their original conditions.
These physical changes are an inevitable part of the aging process, but two people of the same age can show vastly different strength and health levels. Most importantly, much of that is within your control.
How can I make changes now to improve my fitness as I get older?
Read our post “It’s Never Too Late to Get Started with a Healthy Lifestyle” for motivation, practical tips and links to articles and resources.
Work with a personal trainer to develop a program that will help keep you strong, flexible and healthy. A trainer can help motivate you, be sure you’re exercising safely and tailor your program.
Don’t neglect nutrition. Your body needs more nutrient-dense food as you get older. You may need even more specialized nutrition depending on your health. Read our senior nutrition tips and get some high-quality resources for easy ways to eat well.
4. It is likely you will rely on multiple medications and spend a lot of time dealing with medical issues.
80% of people over 65 take at least two prescription drugs. Over 50% take four or more. Unfortunately, while medications help in many cases, this can also lead to interactions, side effects and misuse. More than 125,000 people die every year from failing to take their medications properly. Nearly a quarter of elders admitted to nursing homes have problems managing their medications.
Does it seem that as you or your loved ones get older, you spend a lot of days at doctor’s appointments? It’s not just a perception. Nationally, older adults are in a health care setting 17 days a year, on average. However, residents in some areas might spend 25 or more days in clinics, labs and hospitals. And, patients with multiple conditions or dementia may be spending double that time within the medical system.
Additionally, this doesn’t even touch upon the time spent coordinating, dealing with insurance and getting information. Given that a specialist is the predominant provider for 40% of older adults, coordination may be time consuming or problematic. Though that specialist may be coordinating care, many studies have shown gaps in medical care continuity.
How can you take control of your medical situation as you’re getting old to avoid these pitfalls?
Get your medical records and health history organized (we can help!).
Ideally, establish a relationship with a primary care provider with the expertise you need and the manner you like. Studies show that how well you get along with your doctor influences self care and other health habits, and ultimately your overall wellness.
Read “These Eight Minutes Could Change Your Life” about the importance of doctors’ visits and tips for making the most of them.
Consider using a healthcare advocate, especially if you are facing a new diagnosis or dealing with chronic or multiple health issues.
5. Getting old means you will need help.
The lifetime probability of becoming disabled in at least two activities of daily living or of being cognitively impaired is 68% for people age 65 and older. The probability increases with each year. Memory impairment affects about 32% of those aged 85+. And, about 35% of people will eventually enter a nursing home.
How can I stay in control as I get older?
Even though it’s likely you’ll need help at some point, you can take control. Planning ahead gives you options.