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Reading about old age

By Susan Weiner

Retirement, along with taxes, is a theme of this month’s magazine. Retirement involves old age, which I started reading about when an elderly relative moved in with my husband and me during the pandemic. In this column, I share some of what I learned.

Breaking the Age Code

The main point of Becca Levy’s Breaking the Age Code is that positive beliefs about aging can greatly improve the quality of an individual’s life. In fact, she says, “In my Yale lab, I have been able to improve people’s memory performance, gait, balance, speed, and even will to live by activating positive age stereotypes for just ten minutes or so.” That amazed me.

Her book describes ways that readers can improve their age beliefs. An appendix covers the ABC approach to improving age beliefs. “The three stages consist of increasing Awareness [of age beliefs], placing Blame where blame is due [for negative age stereotypes], and Challenging negative age beliefs,” says Levy.

I was struck by Levy’s discussion of the power of seeing positive models for aging. You can probably find examples in your own life. On the street where I live, a neighbor lived independently in her home past the age of 100. In my family, an aunt who’d lived with her parents until they died in old age created a vibrant life for herself as a solo ager, despite never living on her own before then. Up to the end, she was eager to get out of her home to be around other people.

Other books

Not every book on aging is upbeat. Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life by Louise Aronson discusses how too much of eldercare is medicalized. Often, the best responses to an elderly person’s health issue aren’t medical. For example, providing social contact or incontinence supplies can sometimes make a bigger difference.

If paying for medical care becomes an issue for people of any age, they can benefit from Marshall Allen’s Never Pay the First Bill and Other Ways to Fight the Health Care System and Win. He suggests how to prevent incurring expensive medical bills in the first place. For example, before you agree to medical tests, he suggests looking at what’s recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. He also suggests putting limits on how much you’ll pay for an emergency room visit by writing on your informed consent document, “I consent to appropriate treatment and (including applicable insurance payments) to be responsible for reasonable charges up to two times the Medicare rate.” I love the idea, but I don’t know that I’d have the nerve—or the presence of mind—to execute it. Allen also suggests how to dispute unreasonable bills.

What does this mean for you?

All of your clients are aging, and so are you. It’s important to be aware of your assumptions and potential misconceptions about older people. This will help your aging clients—and some day it might help you.

This issue of the NAPFA Advisor offers some practical support. It includes an article on helping your older clients decide about housing, in addition to articles on saving for retirement with a health savings account, a cash balance plan, or after-tax retirement plan contributions.