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Want to Avoid Unplanned Institutional Care? Control These 3 Things

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Through the years we’ve worked with clients to prepare thousands of retirement plans. Almost every client has told us the same thing: they want to do all they can to avoid unplanned institutional care. The Administration on Aging says that about 10 percent of adults 85 and older lived in institutions such as nursing homes in 2013, but our observation is that while there are many excellent places out there, this type of living is seldom anyone’s first choice.

That’s why an article we read a few months ago on the website Market Watch is worth a review here. It said that “successful aging in place involves preparation. And that preparation is best begun in middle age.” In other words, aging in place is not a passive activity, and there are things you can be doing now to lower the risk of being institutionalized against your will as you age. Click here to read the Market Watch piece.

The article is called “Tackle these three risks to avoid a nursing home.” While we don’t want to oversimplify, we do agree that controlling these three risk factors can help you avoid, or at least delay, the need to move to a nursing facility. If “aging in place” is your goal – staying in your home and living with maximum independence – you can’t start preparing too soon. As the article puts it, “The more we can retire in good physical and emotional health, with plenty of friends and hobbies, the better our chances of staying at home. These habits and relationships take time to develop, so now is a good time for boomers to get started.”

The first risk factor to control is a sedentary lifestyle. The short way to put it is that staying active means staying healthy. In spite of the fact that everyone knows exercise is good for you, in every possible way, it’s amazing to us how many seniors spend far too much time on the couch, getting next to no exercise. Tragically, leading a sedentary life tends to feed on itself: the longer you go on doing nothing, the harder it becomes to start doing anything.

Here’s one exercise tip from the article: if regular exercise on a treadmill or in a pool isn’t what you enjoy, try something fun, like dancing. Even gardening helps, involving lifting, bending and stretching, all valuable aids to physical fitness. Walking also has proven health benefits.

The second risk factor, one commonly associated with nursing home care, is dementia. While definitive proof remains elusive, doctors believe healthy lifestyle choices can help delay the onset of some forms of dementia. These choices include not only exercise (since good circulation benefits the brain) but mental stimulation. If you’re a boomer contemplating an active retirement, and you don’t already have a hobby, think about starting one – tests have shown that hobbies such as quilting or photography actually improve cognitive skills better than crossword puzzles. A good diet also benefits the brain. And several recent research studies have emphasized the benefits of sociability: the more you interact with others, the more the brain is stimulated, with better brain health as a result.

The third risk factor is loneliness. Quoting a professor of medicine from UCLA, the Market Watch article warns that “Our bodies perceive loneliness as a threatening state… launching an inflammatory response” (a proven link to many illnesses) while simultaneously reducing the helpful antibodies that fight disease. Loneliness, the article points out, is not the same as solitude, which many people enjoy. Loneliness is also not the same as depression, although the two can be linked. But in any case, it’s essential that we stay engaged as we age. The article quotes Pamela Wilson, a Colorado-based caregiving professional, who states bluntly, “Depression, isolation and anxiety are the nail in the coffin for an older adult.”

Of course, avoiding unplanned institutional care is just one part of a fully developed retirement plan – or a LifePlan, as we call it. We also advise our clients avoid becoming a burden to their loved ones and counsel them on how to protect their assets as they age. This involves preparing for all of the various, interrelated aspects of retirement: your housing choices, your financial security, your medical coverage, your legal affairs, and communication with your family. We’ve helped many, many clients from all walks of life prepare a LifePlan, and we can do the same for you!

As a first step, we invite you to attend a free LifePlanning Seminar where we’ll go over many of the elements you’ll want to have as part of your retirement plan. There’s absolutely no obligation. For dates, times, and online registration, click on the Upcoming Events tab on this website, or call us and we can gladly assist you. We’ll look forward to meeting you at a LifePlanning Seminar soon!

(originally reported at

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