Independence Day

INDEPENDENCE DAY

 This week marks another Independence Day. In reflecting on what this means to me I am always brought back to the mighty men and women serving in our armed forces both now and in the past. I am eternally grateful to them for putting themselves in harm’s way so that I may enjoy the many freedoms that I hold so dear.

I also recognize that the term independence means different things to different people. There are two types of independence that hit home for me personally that are often intertwined. That is financial independence as well as the ability to live independently as I age. Again these concepts have broad interpretations. However you really can’t have one without the other and both require planning. As I mentioned this is a complex topic with many dimensions as a result this post is a bit longer than normal. Thanks for sharing a few minutes with me and Happy 4th of July to you and yours. Be safe.

Many of you know that I am a caregiver for my mother who has Dementia – Alzheimer’s Type as well as Macular Degeneration. Mom lives in a care community, nearby. Although I am not a hand’s on caregiver I am the primary family member engaged in her care. I will be sharing more about my journey with mom and much of what I have learned in future posts. As part of my journey with mom I am very engaged in the Alzheimer’s community and read and research constantly about this devastating disease. I could write volumes on this topic alone. For now I want to focus on the idea of Independent Living.

When I read blogs and articles about aging and long-term care I read a lot about how so many people believe that aging in place or choosing in home care are the only options or the best solution. I struggle with this. It sounds good in theory but it’s a very complex topic. Who really wants to live in a care community you may think? But the reality is that a care community is a great decision for many. Living alone can be very isolating and feelings of isolation are a big factor in dealing with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Socialization can be a good thing.

My parents had a plan. They bought a home near shopping, church, doctors, hospitals etc. They could walk to anything they might need in their old age. They took steps to minimize home maintenance as they aged. The challenge is that dad got sick and died shortly after retiring. My mom was left alone. Mom had dementia at this point but we didn’t know. We didn’t realize what was happening. Even though they had a plan she could not manage it on her own. The responsibility of home ownership was overwhelming to her. We thought it was depression but it was so much more. (Later I will address my theory on what came first the chicken or the egg. This is one of the interesting aspects in dealing with Dementia patients.)

Mom had always been fiercely independent but now we were seeing such a change.  My brothers and sister and I lived in various parts of the country, had busy lives and careers of our own, which my parents encouraged. I was the one with the most flexibility. Our hands were forced after a fall. Mom could not be left on her own. I quit my job and my husband and I lived with mom for a while. It didn’t work, she felt trapped and resentful. When given the choice she chose a care community. That was her way of asserting control. Over the years there have been a number of communities as her health has deteriorated and her needs have changed, some better than others.

At times I feel pangs of guilt but then I stop myself. She would never have wanted to be dependent on her kids if given a choice. Isn’t that what independence is all about?  Some might say that living in a care community is a loss of dignity. I would argue the opposite. Of course it all depends on the person, the family situation and the quality of the community. All communities are not created equal. Finding the right place is a journey of another kind. (I will be sharing more on this later) Think about this for a minute. If given a choice when you can no longer care for yourself would you want to be dependent on your kids or well-trained, qualified care givers? I think if given a choice that mom would prefer to pay for this in order to maintain her pride and her dignity. Mom has always guarded her privacy. She was a nurse and is a caregiver by nature. I think it’s a situation she would choose for herself if she only could. I encourage you to have these conversations with your aging parents while they are still able to weigh in and give you their opinions. What do they really want to have happen. Most parents would not choose to live with their kids or live alone if given an attractive alternative.

A goal of my family’s is to provide mom with the type of community that respects her independence.  Mom worked nights for many years and has never corrected her body clock. She sleeps a lot during the day and is awake at night. The staff accepts this and works with her schedule. They find things for her to do to stay busy at night and they are in tune with her needs, her likes and her habits. This is very reassuring to me and something this community does very well. There is so little she CAN control. If she chooses to nap at 2:00 in the afternoon she should be allowed to do so. Now that is independent living. It works for now and I’m thankful. She is safe, she is happy and she isn’t alone.

That brings me to financial independence. I am here to tell you that managing the needs of the dementia patient and living for an extended period of time in a care community is a tremendous drain on resources. Mom and dad had a plan but it wasn’t nearly enough. Who knew? Well now I know. This is something we all need to think about and act on. What do we want for our own care plan and how are we going to manage it financially? This is part of the discussion I have with all of my clients as well as my friends and my family. If you could design your own future what would it look like and then what would it look like if it doesn’t unfold the way you hope? In other words what is plan B?

 Financial independence gives you the luxury of maintaining some control. It provides options and it provides freedom. Mom worked hard her whole life and is fortunate to have a pension but beyond that limited resources.  Of course she never banked on getting dementia and who knew how much a care community would really cost? It’s more than any of us ever thought. But then living at home with her limitations is also costly.

My husband and I have been struggling with the idea of WANTING to move to the lake vs. the idea of staying true to our goal of financial independence. I’ve got mixed emotions about both choices. Life can be short and life would be good at the lake. However paying off the mortgage and having the financial freedom to choose how our retirement unfolds is also appealing. For now we have decided to stay put and not take on the added debt. It’s a tough choice. We were not blessed with kids and don’t have built in caregivers. So providing for our own long term care is an important part of our plan. Waiting in my in-box as I write this are quotes for my own long term care policy.

What about you, what steps are you willing to take now to ensure financial freedom later? Now that is what independence really means to me. The freedom to choose.

photo by: Beverly & Pack

About Mary Jo Lyons

Mary Jo Lyons, CFP® is a registered assitant with extensive expertise in designing financial strategies to help clients achieve their financial goals. Have a financial question? ASK MARY JO!

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