Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda: Your Life Your Future
It is said that on his 100th birthday, Comedian George Burns quipped “if I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.” More people than ever are reaching their 90’s and 100’s and it begs the question do we need to get a plan in place to ensure quality of life in our later years? After all, if you’re 75 and live to 95, that’s 20 years. If you’re 70 and live to 100 that’s 30 years…a tsunami wave of years to leave flapping in the breeze.
In the “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda: Your Life Your Future” seminar I’ve taught in the Columbia area over the last year, I urge people to avoid the Yogi Berra School of Crisis Planning where “if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else.” Meaning the more we procrastinate about planning life’s later years the fewer options we have and the greater the likelihood someone else will make decisions for us and they may not be to our liking. You don’t want to wake up one day saying, “I could have put a plan in place if I’d thought about it, I would have put a plan in place had I known to and now I realize I should have put a plan in place.”
Jeanne Calment of Arles, France considered a supercentenarian with the longest confirmed human lifespan of 122 years said of her longevity, “I just kept getting older and I couldn’t help it.” With life moving at warp speed these days new technologies, apps and noise crashing into our consciousness, we can’t afford to let what could be the best years of our lives pass by because “we couldn’t help it.” That isn’t good strategy for managing what could be up to 30 or more years of your life.
The Baby Boomers have arrived. At 78 million, 10,000 Boomers reach 65 every day. People over 100 represent the second fastest growth segment of the US population after 85 year olds. A ten year old child today has a 50% chance of living to 104. Demographers say the first person to live to be 150 is probably alive today. The fact is we are living longer and healthier lives. Today’s seniors as a whole have far fewer disabilities than those in the past. It is becoming critical to plan for the second half of our lives. Experts in aging tell us “living to be 100 is an increasing possibility. Plan on it.”
“What should a plan for the second half of life look like? Just as we all are unique so should out plans be. Think about what quality of life means as you approach your 80’s, 90’s and 100’s. You might want to address health, wellness physical activity and nutrition. Make sure finances and important legal documents are in place. If you haven’t reviewed them in 20 years, now’s a good time to go dig them out. Consider housing choices and weigh the benefits of remaining in your home versus moving to an active living community. How senior friendly is your home? What seems safe and comfortable at 75 may not be at 95. What about all of the stuff your children do not want? It is a whole lot easier to pack and haul boxes at 75 than it is at 95.
Make sure your plan addresses how to avoid what the US Surgeon General says is the biggest health risk facing older adults in the US today…Isolation and loneliness. It is as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, rivals the impact of obesity, raises the odds a senior will move to a nursing home sooner and increases the risk of dementia, heart attack, depression, stroke and high blood pressure.
According to research, isolation and loneliness have reached epidemic proportions. Don’t confuse fierce independence with isolation and loneliness. Dr. James Lubben of the Boston College School of Social Work says, “I don’t think a lot of people understand the consequences of not nurturing our social ties. I worry that in our society we elevate the notion of rugged individualism which is counter to reality. We get through life with help from family and friends who nurture us during critical points in our lives.” Give thought to how you plan to stay connected, involved, active and productive.
It is important to be actively engaged in making the right choices about this next chapter in our lives. We enter this phase of life without a playbook or a set of “how to” instructions. It is when we hit out 60’s and 70’s that we realize we’re mortal and we begin to start thinking about the quality of our next 20-30 years. It’s when we ask how can I be smart about investing my remaining decades wisely? Call it living with purpose. This is a new chapter waiting to be written a new stage of life reminding us we don’t have forever. It is when we realize that the real purpose of aging is to make the world a better place.