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Toronto Star July 03, 2003

More and more, global events are reshaping people’s lives and priorities. Greater emphasis is being placed on home, on family and on those things in our lives over which we do have some control.

The average lifespan at the turn of the last century was 47 years. Advances in sanitation, nutrition, health care and technology have paid nearly a 30-year longevity dividend.

In fact, people in their mid-80s are among the fastest growing populations in Canada.

There once was a time that when you retired, if you had your health and some money you had everything. But just having money is not enough.

That’s why seniors and aging boomers are focusing on what is fast becoming the new phenomenon in retirement planning: “lifespan planning,” a comprehensive undertaking that encompasses all aspects of how we live and die.

Today, at least 1 in 4 Canadian families provide direct care to an aging parent, while many others provide support by giving a ride to the store, ensuring a stocked refrigerator or simply coming by to visit.

As boomers see their parents age, they are seeking services to help them provide care and to balance work and family.

They are also becoming acutely aware of their own future needs as the next generation of Canadian seniors.

In old age, staying at home is viewed as a declaration of independence.

But, as we face the prospect of neighbours changing and the kids moving out, we need to design plans that cover everything from coping and caring to conducting simple daily tasks.

Deciding now who will change the light bulbs, or shovel snow when the time comes, can make the prospect of aging at home not just possible but easy and comfortable.

Commercial and community home repair and maintenance services are popping up in communities across the country in direct response to the increased desire for pre-arranging this kind of service.

Just getting there can become an obstacle in life’s later years, especially when driving is either a limited option or no longer possible at all. Identifying the availability of public transportation, taxis, friends and family, community shuttles and car services and designing a transportation plan will make living with limited access easier.

Thinking in advance about whom you would trust to come into your home to provide assistance with the onerous tasks of meals, dressing and bathing will make coping with an eventual disability at home much easier, and gives you the opportunity to find the right caregiver before you are forced to use the service.

In contemplating a circumstance where it becomes impossible to stay at home, consider in advance what your personal preferences for long-term nursing care might be, and make those preferences known. Choosing now will give you and your loved ones peace of mind when the time arrives.

Although most of us plan for living, the inevitability of dying and managing the impact of that burden on those around us has led to an increase in funeral pre-planning.

Planning ahead and executing an advanced directive for end-of-life questions make it easier to determine appropriate decisions, contain costs and ensure that your family can be confident that their choices are what you would have wanted, easing the burden on those who are left behind.

In the United States today, approximately 3 million people a year are purchasing pre-planned funerals, and that number is growing fast on both sides of the border as boomers plan for themselves and also help their elderly parents.

More and more Canadians are designing their futures beyond pensions, both for life and for death. Given the prospect of an extended lifetime that kind of planning is common sense.

Just as Canadians are becoming “lifespan planners” the marketplace, too, is increasingly responding to the growing desire to plan through new offerings and innovations designed to provide more choice and independence to an aging population.

Planning is empowering – removing uncertainty and providing the opportunity to personalize your future before you or your loved ones are forced to make the tough decisions about how you might live it. As more Canadians are realizing, planning now allows you to be a smart consumer.

Decisions around your choice of caregiver, advanced directives and pre-planned funeral packages are allowing boomers and seniors to make preferences known to family members in advance, and in turn to bring clarity and resolution to what can be the most emotional times in a family’s life.

Done correctly, plans like this will reduce conflict and stress, and provide the necessary resources for your family at a vulnerable time.

As we plan for financial security in older age, we must go beyond pensions, ask the right questions and then act on our decisions by designing in advance how we want to live tomorrow and the day after and the day after that.

Joseph F. Coughlin is director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab where he conducts research on global aging and public policy.

Joseph F. Coughlin

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