You may not want to think about ailing health, not being able to care for yourself, or having to rely on others for help, but it’s important as you age to at least start brainstorming about how you would problem-solve around these issues if they arose in the future.
Considering our own mortality and what a health decline might mean for us can make us feel depressed, anxious, and worried.
However, it’s necessary to explore in advance the kinds of things that could come up so you aren’t taken off guard or caught by surprise and then suddenly have to figure everything out while adjusting to these major life changes at the same time.
See below for some key categories that you may want to reflect on as you age and as your needs change over time.
Consider your own possible health and personal care needs in the future
Do you already have an existing health issue? Are you impacted currently by a chronic illness or disability? What has your healthcare team advised you to plan for as you age?
If you don’t currently have any health issues, it still may be helpful to consider how you would approach challenges if they occur. For example, what if you developed mobility issues and needed a walker or a wheelchair? How would that change how you get around- in your home and in the community?
What if you couldn’t take care of yourself fully, whether that involves basic care tasks (bathing, dressing, feeding, toileting, etc.) or instrumental tasks (grocery shopping, cooking, banking, transportation to medical appointments, laundry, cleaning, home maintenance, etc.)?
Who would help you with these different tasks- your family, friends, or close neighbours? Would you pay a professional to assist you? What could you afford? What are your biggest priorities and how can you factor these into your budget?
You don’t have to have all the answers right now, but it’s valuable to ask yourself these questions just to get you to start thinking about these crucial matters.
Consider the possible health and personal care needs of your partner (if applicable)
The same questions apply to your partner (if relevant). What if your partner typically took care of the home maintenance, cooking, grocery shopping, transport, laundry. cleaning, finances, etc. but can no longer do so as a result of illness, disability, or hospitalization?
If your partner becomes unable to do these tasks, needs additional personal care, and if you are limited or unable to assist them physically with their care or with the household tasks due to your own health issues, it is vital to develop a plan as to how you will tackle the needs of your partner- and you by association- to ensure all of the key areas are addressed.
Think about possible medical equipment you might require
As noted above, what if you required a walker or a wheelchair on a part-time or possibly a full-time basis?
What if you needed a hospital bed because your ability to move in bed was getting more and more difficult? How about if you require a portable lift with a sling so you could get help out of bed to your wheelchair or another device?
What if you had trouble getting in and out of the bathtub and needed a bath bench? Or maybe a handheld shower or commode to make the act of bathing itself easier? What if sitting on a regular toilet became too challenging and you needed a raised toilet seat, toilet safety bars, or a commode for toileting?
Again, these categories are not raised to scare you but are mentioned to get you to consider the many possible ways that life changes could impact how you navigate your daily needs.
What about home modifications?
The potential need for a walker, wheelchair, bathroom equipment, or a portable lift for transfers could lead to the suggestion that home modifications may make your ability to get around your home easier.
Having an occupational therapist from your community’s local health care agency and an accessibility contractor assess your home may be a good first step.
Is a ramp or a porch lift recommended for you to get inside your home? Is the front or back entrance easier to get through? Are bathroom modifications needed? Would a ceiling lift be beneficial to help you with transfers in and out of your hospital bed if it is expected that you will require a lot of assistance with transfers over the long-term?
Ask what the occupational therapist recommends, get itemized home modification quotes from multiple accessibility contractors, and get ready to make some informed decisions about short-term and long-term goals for home modifications to improve accessibility — assuming you intend to stay in your home for the long term future.
If you are renting your apartment, condo, or multi-level home, you may wish to have a conversation with your landlord to see what is possible to facilitate your ability to get in and around your home. You also may want to consider moving to a more accessible home if necessary and if possible.
Maximize the financial resources available to you – both public and personal
Post-retirement, there are several government financial resources at the provincial (Ontario) and federal (Canada) levels that may be helpful to read up on.
For example, many people contribute to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and are receiving that resource post-retirement, where the monthly amount depends on how much they have contributed during their working years, for how long, and at what age they decide to start collecting their pension.
Similarly, individuals may be able to receive Old Age Security (OAS), if they meet the criteria.
In addition, Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) may also be relevant for some people, if they qualify.
If you receive a retirement pension from your former workplace, that is important to factor into your finances. If you have retained extended health benefits from your workplace after retirement, that would also be helpful for medical expenses (e.g. medical equipment, specialized medical supplies, etc.).
Furthermore, there may be several Ontario related charities, such as the Ontario March of Dimes Home and Vehicle Modification Program, that may be useful to apply for if you meet their criteria.
Lastly, there may be provincial and federal tax credits, such as the Disability Tax Credit, Medical Expenses Tax Credit, etc. that you can find more information about on the Canada Revenue Agency link. If you have questions about these tax credits and charities, please speak with your accountant and your healthcare team.
Create a “rainy day fund” to help battle the unknown
Having a rainy day fund is pivotal to be able to manage unexpected and significant expenses as they arise. No one can predict when a health issue will come up that may cause extra costs for medical equipment, personal care, home modifications, and so on. You may find that having an emergency fund set aside might help you better cope with these unanticipated changes.
Ask your family for support if you need it – financially, practically, and emotionally
It’s no doubt that you will do everything you can to maintain your independence, abilities, and skills as much as possible. However, there may be some aspects that are too much for you to bear on your own.
In some cultures and family dynamics, it may not be common or seem reasonable to ask family members for help. If you are comfortable speaking with your family members regarding your financial, practical, and emotional needs, open up and tell them what you are struggling with and how they may be able to help you. Hopefully, you will get a positive response!
Of course, your family will only be able to help you to a certain extent given their own responsibilities, commitments, and possible health issues. You may need to draw on support from other sources (e.g. government health care, volunteer services, private fee-based services, charities, other social supports, etc.) in order to ensure all your needs are met safely.
Do your research, explore what is available to you, and plan ahead. Do your best to start somewhere and take it one day at a time.