How do we provide care for our partner in our later years? For that matter, who is going to care for us if our partner is gone?
It’s not a subject we like to think about, losing our independence, needing high level care, being placed in an aged care facility. But if we don’t start planing ahead I can tell you from experience that others will be making decisions for us. And there is a strong chance we will not like the outcomes. All the emotions of maintaining control and dignity are up in the air – which none of us want – for ourselves, our partners or our mums and dads.
Here are some things to think about. Did you know that if you're a woman there's a 40% probability you will see out your days in an aged care facility? Men are just half that, with a 20% chance of ending up in care.
Why? Because on average, men die five years earlier than women. So if you're the woman in a relationship it's highly likely that you will be caring for your male partner for up to 4 years before he passes away. As you most probably know, it can be a full time job. But then who is going to care for you when it's your turn? The kids, your friends or will you have to fend for yourself?
We all need to plan for this – men as well, as events can surprise us. My Mum developed early onset dementia so my stepdad became her carer for 9 years. Now he's on his own at age 95.
Through people we speak to and research we've done, the most distressing thing we hear about is the rapid onset of depression because of isolation after loss of a partner. Think about it, you are a single woman living in the family home. How do you get to the shops or doctor or chemist on your own? How do you carry groceries or move around the house and garden? What if you fall? My stepfather says putting out the rubbish bins is his biggest fear.
As we age we all need community around us to help us get to the shops, put out the bins, to just be there to talk to. We all need support and we all need to plan this ourselves – we can’t rely on government or even our family.
I strongly believe that retirement villages can offer that community and are something you should consider. I have been to over 250 of the 2,000 villages across Australia and I have met many people who have been on their own for 5, 10 and even 15 years.
Think about it. If you're 5 years younger than your husband, and because women live an average of 5 years longer than men, you're likely to be on your own for about 10 years.
However in a village you make friends and build support groups. There's a real social community, plus a village manager and staff to keep an eye out for you.
Doesn't that sound like a much better way to spend your days?
So take control of your own future. The key is to plan ahead, to maintain your own dignity, and to age well.