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Roanoke area retirement experts, from left: Susan Williams, Arlene Campbell, Maggie Gray, Sue Nutter, Rhonda Levine, Debbie Brown.
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The challenges of retirement and retirement preparation vary with age.
If there’s a consensus item from among six Roanoke Valley experts on the values and vagaries of retirement, it might be something along the line of get ready, get set, get help, get retired (and then repeat the first three steps again and again in many contexts).
In the realms of where to live, Medicare and other insurance, finding and use of community resources, preparing for the unexpected and health issues, the overriding theme is “navigating the maze” that faces each of us – in many contexts – as we age toward and into retirement.
“The Roanoke area has the resources to do that navigating,” says Rhona Levine, an eldercare lawyer with the Coleman & Massey law firm, but the catch is often a matter of linking those in need with the relevant sources of help.
One way toward facilitating links is to look at the valley’s considerable resources in the context of the needs of those in several pre-retirement and post-retirement age groups, with the proviso that none of the challenges in any one age group are necessarily precluded from occurring in any of the others:
“Get the financial aspects in order,” says Maggie Gray, with the Senior Citizens Coordinating Council of Franklin County.
“A lot of people in their 40s and 50s think estate planning is just too expensive,” says Arlene Campbell, volunteer coordinator with the Council of Catholic Charities. “But now that many companies no longer have pensions, getting help at a younger age is even more important. Yes, estate planning can be expensive, but it’s worth the investment.”
Another retirement- and age-related challenge for many in their 50s has to do with aging parents, and the process of what might be called “creeping care-giving.”
“Care-givers can often lose the perspective of taking care of themselves,” says Debbie Brown, director of program ministries at Greene Memorial United Methodist Church.
Susan Williams, executive director of the Roanoke Local Office on Aging, says her agency contracts with Family Services of the Roanoke Valley to provide caregiver support, in the form of training sessions, whether the support is for older parents or an aged or disabled spouse.
“Some caretakers die before the people they are taking care of because of the stress,” she says.
There are at least several lists – some serious, some in full Jeff Foxworthy mode – under the theme You might be a caregiver if . . . All of them provide some insight into the challenges and temptations to deny/ignore/neglect oneself in undertaking the caregiver role to whatever (and often increasing) extent it is occurring – for either parent(s) or a spouse.
“People don’t want to think about it,” says Sue Nutter, executive director of the Adult Care Center of Roanoke Valley, “ but there needs to be a perspective of ‘on any given day, I could instantly become a caregiver, and what am I going to do if I suddenly have a new and unexpected 24/7 responsibility.’”
Actual Retirement and Disconnection from Work Life
“This is the age of ‘hell,’” says Williams, referring to the vagaries of Social Security, Medicare, long-term care insurance and their many facets, including things such as Medicare’s several parts, as well as their accompanying “doughnut holes” and multiple choices of plans, both public and private.
“You can go to a pharmacy or you can read about it, but you really need a live person to help,” Williams says, noting that LOA offers that service. “You need all kinds of education.”
And if it hasn’t already been done, then things such as wills, advance medical directives and powers of attorney need to be put in place.
This decade is also an important time for putting other resources in place for the coming decade(s), including family, social and faith-based arenas of support.
“For many people, there just won’t be children or grandchildren to step in when help is needed,” says Campbell. “That model from the old days is just no longer there, so people need to prepare.”
Ages 71-80: Health Issues
With medical problems generally increasing with age, it also becomes increasingly important at this age phase to have a medical advocate – someone completely knowledgeable about a senior’s health past, current medications and physicians.
Nutrition, or lack thereof, is often a focus for this age group, especially for people who live alone and may tend to lose weight.
“LOA has a nutritionist, to provide help with diet,” says Williams. The agency also delivers some 600 meals daily through its Meals on Wheels program.
There can also be a need for intervention in some seniors for problems with alcohol or with diabetes. And in all of those instances – from basic daily nutrition to specific health problems – a good support system is key, whether it is from family members, neighbors, faith groups or professsional organizations and advocates.
Age 80 and Up:
Where Am I Going to Live?
While the concept of a geriatric care manager – described on the National Association of Geriatric Care Managers’ website as a holistic, client-centered approach to caring for older adults – exists in some communities, it does not in this area.
“But there are home health companies,” says Gray.
Part of the goal of both entities is to keep people living at home as long as possible, a challenge that increases with age and infirmity.
The Roanoke Valley offers a wealth of flexible housing in that context – with seniors able to take advanage of expanded care as the need arises.
“In terms of that continuum of care, Roanoke has a high number of beds for a community its size,” says Levine.