Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Bigger Picture of Retirement Planning

The FPA Experience 2012 conference has come to a close. In thinking about my biggest takeaway from the conference, I think a point that was really driven home for me was that this blog is really a “Retirement Income Researcher” blog. If I really want to be a “Retirement Researcher,” then there is a whole lot more to the story as it relates to health and well-being, the science of aging, and how to plan for health and housing needs in the face of the physical, mental, and emotional challenges that come with increased longevity.

Two excellent presentations which really drove this point home for me were Karen Schaeffer’s “Financial Issues of Aging – A Practical Guide to Advising Clients,” and Louise Schroeder’s “Helping Clients Plan for Aging Successfully; What’s It All About?”

This is not a comprehensive review of the presentations, but I thought I’d share a couple of the interesting points made.

For instance, when you buy a home, even in your 30s or 40s, it is worthwhile to be thinking ahead if there is a possibility you’d like to make that your family home and remain there for the rest of your life. It could be a problem if all of the bathrooms and bedrooms are on the second floor. Can the home be modified to allow for a reasonable lifestyle without using any stairs? If not, you may be forced to move away sooner than otherwise.

Technology is improving to the point that an elderly person’s home can be filled with sensors which allow for monitoring to make sure that daily activities are taking place and medicine is being consumed, and to monitor for early warning signs of an upcoming health problem. A video demonstration even showed how a retiree who loves playing cards was set up with a computerized solitaire game which also allowed his doctor to monitor his response time and other factors to help watch for the onset of dementia.

Both presentations focused a lot on CCRCs, which I think means Continuing Care Retirement Communities. Innovations in this area provide interesting housing options for retirees, and there are a variety of financial considerations which go into the decisions about these. Despite the idea that the care provided with these may be rather expensive, the downsizing of one’s home, reduced utility bills, and reduced demands on other family members may mean that the overall expenses do not increase with the decision to live in a CCRC.

Louise’s presentation emphasized the idea of aging successfully, which involves (1) avoiding disease, (2) engaging with life, and (3) maintaining one’s cognitive and physical functions. To avoid disease, she emphasized the need to accept responsibility for one’s health and to develop a health and wellness plan which involves diet and exercise. Know the risk factors for various health conditions and focus on prevention. She noted that many sorts of functional losses are exaggerated and can be avoided. It is important to maintain relations with others and to avoid isolation, to stay involved with activities which provide meaning and purpose, and to both give and receive social support through networks of family and friends. 

A final issue is to think in advance about who else will have the authority to make financial and health care decisions for a retiree in the event that cognitive or health declines force this situation.