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Improve Your Life Late In Retirement Or After Disability

By Anna M. Rappaport

We all want to avoid disappointment and unpleasant surprises later in life. Many people retire in their 60s or early 70s without considering some of the challenges they will likely face later in life. They save money, do their planning and retire with the feeling that all will be well.

But things change and we need to adapt. Many retirees lose family members, suffer a decline in physical or mental capacity either gradually or suddenly, and their interests may change. Some of the changes that can occur include:

  • Family changes: death or divorce, or a family member who previously provided support becoming disabled or moving away.
  • Health issues: many diseases can occur late in life as the body wears down and become less resistant to disease
  • Physical limitations: loss or decline of sight, hearing, speech, mobility and limitations in the use of other body parts such as hands, legs and arms.
  • Cognitive decline: if this occurs gradually, it may not be recognized immediately.
  • A general slowdown: this happens to all of us at different rates.

People often face some of these same issues after they experience a disability.

Tips and Strategies

  • Be prepared to have an advocate who can help you realize your health care preferences. Many people are unable to communicate effectively with health care providers and are poor at dealing with their instructions.
  • Put in place a plan to manage your money if you are no longer able to do so. Assign responsibility to a trusted person to manage for you in case you are not able to do so yourself.
  • Simplify and document your money management (e.g. bill paying, insurance coverage, etc.) to make it easier for all concerned.
  • Get your estate and end-of-life legal documents in place and keep them updated. Inform appropriate parties about where they are located and who to contact if necessary.
  • Stay as healthy and mobile as you can. Utilize technology and in-person events for exercise and socialization opportunities.
  • Adapt and simplify your living arrangements so they can accommodate next steps. Think through where you might live if moving is part of your next steps.
  • Identify support resources that can help when you need it.
  • Communicate your wishes with the appropriate parties.


There are a wide variety of resources to help as these changes occur, but many people are not aware of these resources and how to find them. A Late-in-Life Decisions Guide developed by the Society of Actuaries and Financial Finesse offers information about resources, and a roadmap for preparing for changes and being ready rather than waiting for emergencies.

The guide provides an overview of the types of decisions that people often face, issues to be considered, questions to ask and ideas about where to find help. Help for some of these issues is often specialized and not something that the general public is aware of. Many people think about finances and health issues, but few consider the longer-term issues related to building a support network, housing and transportation.

In planning for these late-in-life changes, think about four major categories of life management and decisions:

  1. Health – staying healthy if you can, choosing providers well and making good decisions about your treatment, and choosing the right insurance and financing plan.
  2. Housing and transportation – choosing housing that will work with change, and/or adjusting your housing and transportation to fit your needs.
  3. Managing your finances – knowing where to go, who to ask, and what you can do if you need help.
  4. Building a support network – becoming familiar with what resources are available and how to access them.

Building a support network — Many people need help as they age. Some are fortunate and have capable and nearby family members who are willing to help. For them, there is a natural support network. Others are aging alone with no available family members to help them. These “solo agers” must find support from friends and professional sources. Some researchers have estimated that 22% of Americans over age 65 are solo agers. Some people need help with transportation, household chores, shopping and errands. Others will also need caregivers. Some need help managing day-to-day finances and paying bills, making medical appointments, listening to what the doctor is saying and asking the right questions. Some need help managing prescriptions and taking their medications. Some need help from a caregiver for a few hours a week whereas others need help 24 hours a day. Most people want to stay in their homes as long as they can. Having suitable support and housing that supports aging are a big help in doing this.

There are a variety of different types of helpers and different ways to find them. Networking with others is often a good way to find modest amounts of help. Areas Agencies on Aging are a good way to find out organizations that offer services in a specific geographic area. Villages, churches and neighborhood organizations, such as local departments of aging, may also be sources. Villages are organizations of seniors living in a local area who band together to network, identify resources and help each other stay in their homes. There are also professionals who provide various types of help.

Housing and transportation — These are two critical areas for seniors. For some people, there is a path of aging in place, getting some help while aging in place, getting additional help with transportation, moving to specialized housing, moving on to assisted living and in some cases, a nursing home. Others stay in their own homes for the rest of their lives or make fewer transitions. Where one lives is a key factor in comfort and happiness, and it determines access to services and activities as well as transportation. The design of the house is also a critical factor in how well one can adapt to their environment and in how difficult it is to care for and maintain the home.

Housing type and location may also influence how difficult it is to get support services with some housing being combined with support services. Suggestions for making the future path easier include decluttering and cleaning out unnecessary possessions early and making any changes needed to make the home safer. Decluttering and periodically pruning possessions makes it much easier to move later and makes a home better to live in. Things to look for include any areas that represent fall hazards or areas that need repair, quality of railing on stairs, adding safety rails and grab bars, etc. These steps make it easier to age in place or to move if necessary.

People who want to age in place are also well served if they recognize when help is needed and if they secure such help before something goes wrong. One of the most difficult changes for some people is stopping driving. Again, it is better to recognize signals that it is time to change rather than waiting for something bad to happen.


Our lives change during retirement and often this means dealing with the onset of limitations. It is possible to prepare for that in advance which should lead to a better outcome than waiting for an unplanned event to force a change. Identifying resources that can help and using them early on improves the chances of a successful retirement and can provide smooth transitions when they are needed.

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