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THE AGING BOOMERS – Meeting the Challenges of Solo Aging

Sara Zeff Geber has a Ph.D. in Counseling and Human Behavior and is the founder of LifeEncore. She is also a certified retirement coach and a recognized expert in motivating baby boomers to plan for the next phase of life.

FrankSamson : I am very excited tointroduce our guest today as we discussa very important subject . We have with us Sara Zeff Geber.

Sara has a PhD in Counseling and Human Behavior and is the founderof LifeEncore. She is also a certified retirement coach and a recognized expertin motivating baby boomers to plan for the next phase of life. Dr. Geber’spersonal crusade is raising awareness about the unique challenges of soloaging. She regularly speaks about this issue at conferences and meetings offinancial planners, gerontology professionals, housing developers, lawmakers,and others who play a role in the aging of America. Sara, thank you so much forjoining us on The Aging Boomers. I really appreciate it.

SaraZeff Geber: Thank you, Frank. I’mhappy to be here.

FrankSamson: I don’t want to assumethat people understand the term solo aging. Maybe let’s clarify for everybodywhat we mean when we talk about solo aging. Can you explain that bit for all ofus?

SaraZeff Geber: Sure. I define a solo ageras anyone who doesn’t have children. In that, I include people who are married,people who are single, people who are divorced. If you never have any childrenno matter whether you’re male or female, I consider you a solo ager. Somepeople define it differently. I have had people argue that it should bereserved just for single people, but I don’t believe so and I think I’ll makeit clear why I don’t believe so as we go along.

FrankSamson: This is an area thatobviously is growing. As you know, I’m in the industry. We work with familiesevery day and I can’t tell you how common it is, even more often than in someyears back, we come across families or individuals who don’t have children. Howdid it catch your attention? Are you a solo ager yourself? Did you have peoplethat you knew who were in this population? You seem to be emphasizing thisparticular area, so how did that come about?

SaraZeff Geber: You’re exactly right. I ama solo ager myself and I find myself surrounded by other people who are soloagers. I think that’s probably fairly typical for a woman who has made acareer, a serious career, throughout her life and never had children. Sheprobably, like I, knows lots of other women who have done the same thing. Itcaught my attention though about 8 to 10 years ago when I had a very goodfriend who was spending a tremendous amount of time taking care of herfather-in-law. Her father-in-law was all the way on the East Coast and shespent a tremendous amount of time flying back and forth and staying for monthsat a time organizing his care, organizing his household, ultimately moving himinto an assisted living facility, and it consumed her life for about threeyears.

Her husband was really the breadwinner for both of them, so she,fortunately, for the father-in-law, had the opportunity and the time to dothis. But I found myself at one point just absolutely floored when the questionhit me, “Who will do that for us?” The answer clearly was no one.There’s nobody to pick up the flock. There’s no safety net of children for soloagers. We’re going to have to figure it out ourselves ahead of time or we’releaving a great deal to chance.

FrankSamson: That is for sure. Maybeexplain when you are talking about those that don’t have children but aremarried. You still categorize each of them as solo agers. Why do you do that?

SaraZeff Geber: I do. To me, it just seemsto be fairly logical that even if you are married, unless you get hit by the samebus on the same day, one of you is going to predecease the other. It’s just afact of life. The other one will truly be solo and aging. You don’t know whichone of you is going to be, so it’s important to both plan as well as youpossibly can, plan robustly ahead of time. My husband and I have made it ourbusiness to do that. We certainly don’t know who is going to predecease theother, but we both have our plans in place for whichever one of us is leftbehind.

FrankSamson: You don’t have to tell uswhat your plans are, but give us some examples of what our solo agers should bethinking about.

SaraZeff Geber: Sure. Planning, in myopinion, for solo agers and for anyone, really, but certainly for solo agersshould be multi-faceted. A big part of the planning is building up your supportsystem, your relationships. Another big part of the planning is financial, andthen housing is the third leg of the stool for solo agers. You need to knowthat you have all three of those pieces established and understand what they’regoing to do for you as the years go on. Sometime before you hit the age of 60,65, for certain, 70, all solo agers should be thinking about how they’re goingto finance the last part of their life, whether that’s 5 years or 30 years.What are they going to do? How long do they have to make a living? Do they needto continue to bring in income beyond age 65, beyond age 70? There is lots ofopportunity to do that. It’s just important to understand where you arefinancially. That’s number one.

Another leg of the stool is the relationship piece. Many soloagers, both men and women, have spent a great deal of time building theircareers. Once those careers wind down, many solo agers find that they don’treally have a healthy relationship or social system, a support system, aroundthem and they need to rebuild that with people outside their old work circles.Now, for some solo agers, that’s not an issue. I have a number of friends andassociates who have big supportive families. Others do not. If any of thelisteners have large families and you’re close to your nieces and nephews andyour siblings and you have younger siblings, that’s an excellent place tostart. It always starts with family.

I have a good friend who is a solo ager. She comes from a familywith four sisters. She is the youngest of the sisters but although she did notmarry, all the other sisters did marry and have lots of kids. She’s very closeto her nieces and nephews. When she does her planning, she includes all of themin her support system. They all know what she wants in her later years. Theyall know how she wants to be cared for, how she wants to be treated. That was ano brainer for her.

It’s not so easy for people who don’t have close family. Myhusband and I are in that situation. Neither of us have close family nearby orclose family at all, so we need to figure it out with friends and with peoplewho don’t live quite as close to us, and we will need to figure it out withsome professionals as well.

Finally, the third leg. The third leg is housing. People need togive some real thought to where they want to live. The popular notion thesedays is people want to age in place; others have done lots of research on whatpeople want, and the vast majority of people say they want to age in place. I’mnot a huge fan of that, especially for solo agers because it can be very, veryisolating and alienating to watch your world grow smaller and smaller andsmaller with you in your little home or apartment. I think I have a minorityopinion on that, but it’s important to look at the options for where you mightlive where you can be surrounded by other people that can be your supportsystem if you are a solo ager. Those are the three legs of that stool: I think they warrant close attention by allsolo agers.

FrankSamson: You bring up a great pointand that’s the term “aging in place”. A lot depends on how you really defineit. I think it has been defined in the past as “I am going to age the restof my life in my home,” but in reality, it’s that you can age somewherewithout being in a healthcare facility such as a skilled nursing facility. Thething is, as you know, there are so many options out there that are notso-called medical facilities where people don’t want to live the rest of theirlife. That, to me, is also aging in place, but I know it might be stretchingthe term a little bit from how people are used to using it.

SaraZeff Geber: I think we have to educatepeople. I know from the talks I’ve given around the country and the people Italk to casually, that there is a tremendous lack of understanding that thereis anything between your own house and the nursing home. As you and I know, andprobably a lot of your listeners know at this point, there’s tremendous varietyof housing opportunities between nursing home and your own personal home. Imean, your own personal home can be part of a community. I’m a huge fan of someof these new concepts like co-housing. I’m a big fan of all kinds of retirementcommunities. The exciting thing for everyone, not just solo agers, is that moreand more innovative ideas in housing for older adults are coming up all thetime by independents, by the big corporate housing companies, by what I thinkof as the housing giants for older adults. Everybody is getting innovative andit’s just wonderful to see. I’m excited about the future of housing for olderadults.

FrankSamson: That is the main businesswe’re in and there are companies out there that are testing so many differentconcepts. Instead of maybe a high-rise or just one building on their campus,they set up smaller homes within theircampus. Almost like they’re setting up this mini subdivision for the elderlyand if someone needs care, there’s caregivers, etcetera.

SaraZeff Geber: Yes, wonderful.

FrankSamson: There are a lot moreoptions out there for people, I agree. One question I was going to ask you andI think I know the answer but I want to ask you anyway, is when you’re talkingto your clients or giving advice, are they in total shock when they hear whatthe cost could be should they need any type of assisted living or maybe evenmemory care assistance in the future or are they aware of those types of cost?

SaraZeff Geber: I don’t get in to thebusiness of talking to them about cost. I know what the costs are because I’vedone a lot of research in this area, so I know what’s out there and I know therange. I encourage people to find a financial advisor and talk to her or himabout their future, about what they can afford. Financial advisors, those thatI know anyway, the good ones, they all are very aware of what housing costs forolder adults and they can help people work it out. It is a shock to a lot ofpeople though, and people don’t realize how much money they will need to dependon in the last few years of their lives.

I’m a big fan of long-term care insurance. A lot of people whohave had it now for 10 years or so got some very good programs and I encouragethem to keep them up. Don’t let them falter. People are making very good use ofthose in their later years. I know there are some communities that want peopleto have long-term care insurance. Of course, many people don’t have that. It’s expensive.I think there are a lot of ways to work with this and I think that’s where someof these innovative housing ideas are going to have to show up because peopleare going to need housing and a lot of them aren’t going to be able to affordthe kind of housing that exists today.

FrankSamson: Right. You mentioned theterm housing, I think our listeners need to understand this. When we sayhousing, obviously, it could just be that. It could be just you’re paying rentsomewhere, but the reality is, is that once you hit 70 years old, the chancesare pretty good that you’re going to need some additional care, some additionallong-term care, and that could be anywhere from medication management,reminders on taking medication to help with what we call activities of dailyliving, just the day-to-day type things. That’s where the additional cost overand above housing can occur.

SaraZeff Geber: Absolutely. Housing, Ithink I agree with you, is a cold term.People need to find a place to live where it’s safe and secure and they havetheir care needs, if and when they have them, are met. That can be in a lot ofdifferent kinds of settings. It can even be a setting with roommates wherethere is an aide that comes in to provide some care to whoever needs it, whenthey need it, someone who is available and easily accessed. There’s a network …I’m seeing a new network out there now called Silvernest, that puts peopletogether with roommates, if you will. Housemates can be a wonderful way tobuild a home with like-minded people that will save you from the kind ofisolation that you may easily fall into if you’re all on your own.

FrankSamson: Right. We actually had a representative from Silvernest in a show …it’s a great concept.

SaraZeff Geber: It is! There was anotherorganization a few years ago called the Golden Girl Network started by a womanin Maryland. That, unfortunately, doesn’t exist any longer. Someone told methat the woman who started it became ill herself and had to let it go. I was sosorry to hear that because she was doing such a good thing by promoting thatconcept. She had a whole training program around how to find roommates and howto draw up a legal agreement. It was just terrific.

FrankSamson: Now, it’s also importantto know, not every assisted living that may have independent living andassisted living in their community will pair people up. Obviously they willwant to make sure it’s going to be compatible. They’re not matchmakers but it’s always good to inquire about that.Let’s say you needed help, a little bit of help from a care standpoint and youwere alone and you were willing to have a shared apartment, some places willtry to match you up. Not all, but some.

SaraZeff Geber: That’s terrific.

FrankSamson: So any other suggestionsyou have for people relative to living arrangements? I know you mentionedSilvernest, but anything else you recommend?

SaraZeff Geber: I mentioned co-housing.It’s a phenomenon that is growing. It started in Europe about 20 years ago andthere are now several developers who specialize in building co-housingproperties … they’re always grassrootsefforts. It’s always someone that gets fired up about building a co-housingcommunity and gets it started and recruits others. Again, it’s always agrassroots effort. But I’m a big fan. I’m a big fan of what’s known now aselder co-housing, which is a concept that speaks for itself. It’s people over55 who want to build a community that they can grow old together in. I justthink that’s a terrific way to go about it.

The one community that I’m very familiar with in Californiawas … Gosh, it was during the recession and people werefinally able to move in, I think, about 2013 or 2014..They actually built anadditional unit, two units on the property for the immediate use of peoplecoming to visit. Anyone can reserve the units for visiting family, butultimately, those units are earmarked for caregivers because that community isgoing to be growing old together. The age range right now is early 60s tomid-80s. They are going to be aging together and they will need care at somepoint, many of them. I think that was a very forward-thinking on their part.

FrankSamson: How would people, if they wantto either get in touch with you or track what you’re doing? I know you have plans to be coming out with abook real soon on this very subject matter, so do you have a website or anycontact information to share?

SaraZeff Geber: I sure do. Yes, I havebeen writing a book on solo aging for the past couple of years. I was just onthe threshold of self-publishing when a publisher, a traditional publisher gotvery interested, so it’s going to be a little delayed, but I’m hoping it’llstill be out by the end of this year. Meanwhile, my website is LifeEncore.com.I can be reached through the website or at [email protected].

FrankSamson: Okay, and that’sL-I-F-E-E-N-C-O-R-E.com?

SaraZeff Geber: That’s correct.

FrankSamson: We only have a couple ofminutes left here so I’m going to hit you with this one question. I’m going toput you on the spot.

SaraZeff Geber: Sure.

FrankSamson: For those solo agers outthere, those who are listening or those who have clients that are solo agers,what are the steps that you think need to be taken immediately or within a reasonable period of time? What areyour suggestions?

SaraZeff Geber: Great question and I goback to my little proverbial three-legged stool. Understand your finances. Getyourself to a financial advisor. Get yourself to someone who can sit down withyou and take a look at what you have, what you’re earning now, what you potentiallycan earn if you need to in the future, and where you are financially. Then doan assessment of your support system. Who is in your life? What family is inyour life? What friends are in your life, especially younger friends that youcan rely upon?

I want to add one thing to that I haven’t mentioned. I’m also avery big fan of solo agers hiring fiduciaries, people who understand theirwishes, people who you can build a relationship with. They charge by the hourand it’s all back-loaded. They don’t do too much except charge you for ameeting like every year or so until you need the help. Then as long as you havean estate of some sort, you have some money in reserve, their time on thebackend when decisions need to be made in your behalf, that’s when they chargefor their time.

My husband and I have been in touch with fiduciaries and we’regoing to be using fiduciaries in our advanced healthcare directives and ourtrust, again, because we don’t have close family, and I think that’s veryimportant for people who are in that same boat.

FrankSamson: Great point. Sara, thankyou so much for joining us on The Aging Boomers. Sara Zeff Geber, check it outat www.LifeEncore.com. Again, I want to thank everybody for joining in. Ofcourse, so many of you tuned in to iTunes, iHeartRadio, Spreaker, Stitcher orgone to our website at TheAgingBoomers.com. Thank you for that. Sara, thank youand just wanted to let everybody know to be safe out there and we’ll talk toyou all soon. Thanks so much.

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