Don't ignore the costs of your old age

From assisted living or long-term care, funding the later years of your life costs money so make sure you are prepared.

Illustration by Gary Clement
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I found a letter – an old letter from a four year-old me to my grandmother. The details are not important. What is is what it represents. The passage of time in a way so stark and permanent.

My nana made it to 93. She was beautiful and strong. Such a strong, fierce woman there never was. I wonder if she knew what became of her? A proud person reduced to total dependence on strangers – for the most intimate of things. Forgetfulness was one manifestation of her outliving her molecules – the danger she posed to herself, and others, another. Like the time she left a pan, with nothing in it, on the stove – and walked away. An alarm went off before things got out of hand. And the time she fell down a wooden staircase, bruising and battering her frail body with each bump. She had just moved in with my uncle.

Newsflash – UBS unassisted living report finds being a burden seen as worse than living on life support. Only a third of those surveyed plan to rely on family. Most will depend on hired care. 89 per cent want to stay in their current home.

My gran was up there with these findings, living alone in her home with dip-in help. Falling off a stool trying to reach something and breaking a hip changed things. After that, her version of assisted living was moving in with one of her children. Fast forward a few years; she increasingly needed round-the-clock care – and became a resident in a home. There were other reasons that she ended up there. Including that yes, she was a burden. And increasingly so. Family couldn’t cope, or couldn’t be there. Whatever the reasons or justifications, resources had to be found to ensure comfort, companionship and maintain health at this stage of life.

Newsflash: Most of us have failed to prepare for long-term care.

One element of preparing is factoring in the cost of health care in our financial planning. This is part medical need, part who will actually look after us. Another thing is filling family in on the detail. And deciding where, and how we will live when it comes to different phases, for example assisted versus unassisted living.

In preparation for this, I am going to kit out my home in a way that makes it friendly and livable in when I am no longer so nimble. And doing so as I modify my home, in other words, not when I have a problem. I don’t mean geriatric design, but contemporary, living across the ages, type aesthetic. Including not having to use stairs and still having access to everything I need.

No one knows how healthy, present – mentally – or able we’ll be next month, never mind decades down the road.

Most nations don’t provide for their citizens at this stage of life. And in places where health care is provided for everyone, based on their need rather than their ability to pay for it, like the UK with its National Health Service, this is being challenged and changed.

Health care; being looked after; companionship; inclusion; mental outlook; being safe – each is so vital. Expat friends seeking to retire are looking to places that have good provision of the above. Good luck to them because it’s a tough ask. And it’s expensive too.

A cursory look at the cost of assisted living brings up circa US$2,500 for over a month in the US on the lower end of the scale. In the UK, 24-hour care at home could cost £50,000 (Dh239,210) a year. These costs will go up over time.

So what are the things that we will need later on in life?

•  Long-term care – and that’s without being ill – because we just can’t move like we used to, or see, or hear clearly enough to get on with things.

• Being ill – and needing long-term medical intervention.

• Being able to access places. For things like medical needs, food, socialising, hobbies. This means either living bang in the middle of a place where you can walk everywhere (flat enough for a Zimmer), or that you need to sustain yourself (think food) or with access to transport. Bus? Person to ferry you to and fro?

It all costs money. A lot of money.

My children are not my old-age insurance. It was different in my nana’s day. She had six offspring – but still, when duty swapped generations, it didn’t fall squarely on each of their shoulders. There’s always one who bears the brunt. Be it financial, emotional, physical.

She died when I was cycling across Thailand to Cambodia – to help build houses and dig wells near Siem Reap. There's a well in her name there – if you ever come across it, send me a picture will you? It was dug after I left for her funeral. Inscribed: In memory of Lilian Vivian Ryan, it'll accompany the letter I wrote to her all those decades ago – and serve as a reminder to never be a burden to my children.

Nima Abu Wardeh describes herself using three words: Person. Parent. Pupil. Each day she works out which one gets priority, sharing her journey on