Most of us worry about our parents and their wishes and efforts of living independently. Most of us can also relate to sitting at the office and wondering if Mom is sitting in her favorite recliner watching reruns of Gunsmoke or The Andy Griffith Show or if she’s attempting to reach that top shelf that houses her secret stash of chocolate. It’s about that time we pick up the phone to call her again…for the fifth time that day. And so our days go, a balance of wondering if our elderly parents are safe and sound and making sure the quarterly numbers match the report that’s on its way to our boss.
A new study published by the American Journal of Public Health provides interesting insight and statistics on just how successful our older loved ones are when it comes to adapting to living independently and especially if they’re disabled in some way.
Disability is defined for these purposes and by the Journal as a reduced ability to perform activities such as bathing, using the toilet, getting around, cooking or shopping because of deteriorating strength, mobility, pain or other physical or cognitive challenges.
The study focused on Medicare enrollees, 38 million of them, who were placed into five distinct categories:
- Those live alone and with no assistance
- Those who have disabilities but who are able to incorporate assistive technology
- Those who have reduced their physical activities but aren’t likely to admit to it
- Those who say there are daily difficulties in living independently, but are able to do so despite that; and
- Those who rely on some form of daily assistance, either from friends, family and/or neighbors
The study itself was conducted by researchers with Johns Hopkins University, the Urban Institute, the University of Michigan and other institutes that contributed to some degree.
What their combined efforts found were that 12 million elderly are “fully able” to manage daily living on their own with no help. This equates to 31 percent of Medicare recipients. Another 25 percent of Medicare recipients, or 9 million, have found a way to adapt successfully to their disability while 6 percent, or 2.1 million, have reduced their activities without necessarily admitting it and 7 million are finding it increasingly difficult to function on their own.
Around 7.7 million received assistance at least once a month, and that includes those living in nursing homes.
What’s so enlightening about this report is that it’s the first of its kind and really focuses less on categories of “disabled” or “independent” and instead stresses their day to day lives that may or may not have assistance, even in a minimal way. It suggests that even if we lose some of our ability to function as easy as we used to, we’re not losing our independence.
This plays a big role, both now and in the future, of those preparing for retirement and wondering what that looks like. For too long, many assumed they would find themselves facing nursing homes or other living facilities versus remaining at home. It also provides insight as more of us move towards putting those important powers of attorney into place, such as who will be making our medical and financial decisions at some point. In other words, just because we lose the ability to climb that stepladder to retrieve the chocolate we “hid” from ourselves, we don’t lose our ability to rethink that decision and hide it a bit closer on a shelf we can reach without the aid of a stool.
Even if you’re already living independently, it’s a good time to give your estate plan a check-up. Review those powers of attorney, update your will, be sure you’ve included any changes you’ve been considering. Give us a call today to learn more so that you can get back to the business of those Andy Griffith reruns
The Law Offices of Barton P. Levine is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.