Serious content alert. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I weight my post with either cheery or poignant subjects. Today is not one of those days as during the past month there has been a series of unexpected medical issues with some of the older childless couples I know. In these cases, it isn’t only childless; it’s small families with no relatives geographically near. One of the realities of choosing to retire/relocate to somewhere like South Florida is distance. Yes, leaving the cold of the Northeast, Midwest, etc., does mean much better weather (setting aside the problem of hurricanes), but it is also a very long way from family that may not have moved. That tends not to seem important other than the price one often pays for holiday travel. And initially, it probably isn’t important. The issue comes when the cost is less the point than the physical difficulty or inability to travel. Even as we age, our active lives lures us into thinking it will always be this way. After all, we’ve seen people in their 90s on trips, haven’t we? Absolutely, and the very reason we remark is because it is the exception, not the norm. In the more likely scenario of a debilitating illness or injury, it is both the distance of a relative traveling and the life being interrupted. In a case of a temporary situation, it might be manageable. Far greater complications arise if the circumstances call into doubt the ability to remain living alone. With small families, it is also possible the remaining relatives may be equally elderly and/or have medical/financial issues that prevent them from being able to help.
These can be daunting problems and the very reason I wrote Your Room at the End: Thoughts About Aging We’d Rather Avoid. Waiting until the moment of a crisis is not the time to plan for such events. Learning what options are available in your area is strongly advised because there are actually three main factors; 1) available resources such as at-home care, transportation, etc. – not all places are created equal – ; 2) cost; 3) who will manage/advocate the assistance. Let’s use the example of affordable at-home care for help that includes transportation for trips to the grocery store and meal preparation. Someone still has to make the arrangements, manage payment and quite frankly, keep an eye out to make certain services are being provided as believed. If these things are researched before hand, getting them started is a matter of scheduling rather than having to scramble and perhaps not having time to properly vet the individual/company. In other cases, maybe external services aren’t available and instead, a network of friends/neighbors will pitch in. That’s quite possible, but again, these are conversations to develop before the need arises.
The solution of entering an independent or assisted living facility is a separate issue that I’m not going to get into in this post. In fact, there are two couples who have been stalwart volunteers within the community for decades. Both have made the decision to relocate before the year end to be closer to their adult children/younger relatives. As much as I hate to see them go, these are the types of choices we must consider for our later years.