Whether you’re an older adult, you’re closing in on retirement age, or you’re caring for an elderly relative, 2020 was a year filled with teaching points. Will we learn our lessons? That remains to be seen.
I’m glad 2020 is over. Last year was especially difficult for older adults and their family caregivers. COVID-19 laid bare certain realities about aging in America, realities that most people would rather ignore.
First, COVID-19 showed us that institutional settings like nursing homes and assisted living facilities are difficult places to live during a pandemic. According to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare, 3,029 nursing home residents in Washington have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since March, and 702 residents have died. Though most long-term care facilities have been quick to take action to protect residents, the resulting lockdown-fueled social isolation has created an epidemic of depression and decline in many residents.
Second, COVID showed us that the experience of riding out a pandemic in an institutional setting is bad enough when you want to be there. It’s far worse when you don’t.
Finally, COVID showed us that if you don’t want to end up living in an institution like a nursing home or assisted living facility and you don’t have a plan to avoid it, odds are good that you’ll end up being forced to move when you don’t want to.
Let me be clear. I’m not saying that long-term care facilities are bad. They are not. There is a time and a place for everything, and if you want to live in a long-term care facility as you grow old, you will have plenty of great options.
If living in a nursing home is the last thing you want, what is your plan to avoid it? Do you have a plan? If you don’t, the day you fall ill could be the last day you live in a place you freely chose. The day your health fails will be a bad day, but it may not be the worst day of your life. That honor will be reserved for the day when you’re told that a nursing home is your only option.
COVID presented one teachable moment after another for those of us closing in on retirement age. The pandemic showed us why it’s so important think about more than just accumulating a big nest egg when we’re planning for retirement. Creating a proactive plan for your housing today can keep you from being forced into a living situation you don’t want tomorrow.
Rajiv Nagaich is an elder law attorney, author, adjunct law school professor, and retirement planning visionary who has achieved national recognition for his cutting-edge work with retirees and his contributions to the practice of elder law. He is the founder of two firms based in Federal Way: Life Point Law, an elder law and estate planning firm, and AgingOptions, a firm that provides retirement-related education to consumers and professionals. For more information, visit AgingOptions.com, LifePointLaw.com or call 877-762-4464.