A not-for-profit UK housing charity has published the results of a recent survey looking at how prepared the British public are for their retirement years, and the findings aren't surprising.
The results show that less than half of us are happy to think about getting older, preferring to live in the now and delaying having to make any choices that could affect our future. An estimated 64 percent of Brits claim that they haven't thought about old age, or made plans for coping with common issues experienced during retirement such as mobility issues for example.
None of this should come as a great surprise - retirement is, after all, considered to the the 10th most stressful life event on the Holmes and Rahe scale, nestled in between marital issues and health concerns. Retirement is often perceived as being a time of relaxation, so why does it rank so highly on the Holmes and Rahe scale, and why are so little of us prepared to think about our later years?
According to the Anchor housing charity who conducted the study, there are many different reasons why we're reluctant to think about the future in too much detail. These reasons include a loss of independence that can impact loved ones and put a strain on relationships, worries about losing the home, financial concerns, and many people seem to think that by acknowledging the ageing process, that old age becomes a much more real concept.
Perceptions of ageing are typically very negative, which is why we put off planning for the future. However, in taking action and researching the different options available, old age doesn't actually seem so bad.
Loss of independence cited as biggest overall fear
The results of the study show that 45 percent of those questioned were afraid of losing independence in their later years. A lack of independence is often associated with old age due to reduced balance, a weakening of the muscles, and poor bone density which are all normal parts of the ageing process.
Unfortunately, these three factors combined can increase the risk of falls - it's estimated that around 1 in 3 older people experience a fall each year - and also increase the risk of subsequent injury. This can cause the elderly to rely more upon their family, and could also contribute to isolation for fear of going out with any regularity. A lack of socialisation is frequently cited amongst the main risk factors for depression.
In planning for old age, however, we can see there are multiple options for adequate management. Firstly, mobility aids can be very beneficial in helping to maintain independence, and leading as normal a life as possible. Embarrassed about the thought of needing to use mobility aids in the home? Why? The Office of Fair Trading reports that 4.3 million of us use some form of mobility aid, whether that be a wheelchair, a stairlift, handrails, or bathroom hoists.
Secondly, many people are eligible for community physiotherapy on the NHS (check with your local trust to see if this is available in your area). If you're struggling with mobility and it's effects in old age, research shows that 4 hours of physiotherapy for just 6 weeks is enough to increase independence and self efficacy.
The high cost of care a real worry for most
The report also shows that an estimated 38% of people are worried about the cost associated with getting older. With state pensions totalling just £110.15 per week, and the average life expectancy continuing to rise, there is little wonder that 41 percent of older people worry that they will outlive the funds available to them.
Planning for old age is one of the most effective ways to manage retirement finances as there are a number of government grants available that could allow you to live more comfortably, such as Personal Independence Payments, and funding for home adaptations, including the installment of mobility aids to make day-to-day life much simpler.
What many don't realise is that financial assistance of this type isn't advertised particularly well, and to find grants that you are eligible for, you'll need to plan ahead, conducting research to find suitable financial help for your needs. 23 percent of people questioned in the Anchor housing charity study cited a fear of losing their home as a primary reason for putting off making plans for their retirement years, and this is a very real concern that is steadily growing, rather than declining. There are two reasons why an elderly person may lose their home.
Firstly, many homes are not designed to cope with the needs of the elderly and there has been an influx in charities, groups, and individuals petitioning for the government to provide more accessible accommodations for the elderly, or for funding for home adaptations to be more readily available. If a person is unable to secure funding for home adaptations, and are unable to live in their home safely, there is little choice but to move into assisted living facilities or care homes. The second reason for loss of homes is residential stays.
The new Care Act 2014, introduced earlier this year, caps personal contributions for residential care at £75,000. However, as Simpson Millar Solicitors report, the average cost of care homes in the UK is roughly £30,000 per year, while the average length of stay is around 2.5 years.
This means that, under this new legislation, the elderly will typically receive little to no financial help from the government for the care that they require, leaving them with little option but to fund care through the sale of their home. Financial planning for the future is vital, and is something that everyone should consider.
Concern over becoming a burden in later years
Finally, 22 percent report the fear of emotional strain on their families as a reason for not wanting to think about the future. However, advanced planning has been found to reduce this strain. Research has found that carers are less likely to feel burdened or emotionally overwhelmed if they have an indepth knowledge of their patient's preferred methods of care, so talking to relative about preferences is essential.
There is also a great deal of support available for carers if arrangements are made in advance, including Carer's Allowance of £59.75 per week, Carer's Credit, and respite care which can benefit both the patient and the carer. Ironically, many of the worries cited as reasons for not planning for old age can actually be resolved or managed through planning. The Anchor housing charity has launched a campaign in response to the survey results, Grey Matters, which aims to get younger people talking about their future.