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Advisors: Beware of Your Clients Risks as They Age and Live Alone

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Whether your older clients have family or not, living alone can lead to increasing social isolation and higher risks of health problems. The case study here is based on a true story involving a 75-year old that was very independent until a crisis. Imagine that she is your client with a multi-million dollar portfolio.

Brenda is single and never had kids. She has one family member two thousand miles away. Few friends live in her area. She rents a two-story condo with steep stairs, in a largely inaccessible hillside area. She has been driving herself places though she admits she shouldn’t drive. Brenda is also in chronic pain, even after two surgeries and she feels ready to give up. She takes multiple medications.

With multiple medications, things can go wrong. They interact, they have side effects, and they can cause chemical dependency. All of these things happened and one day Brenda could not get out of bed. An emergency room visit, hospitalization, and rehab followed. She acknowledged that she could no longer live alone in her unsafe condo. She was just too weak to keep managing the stairs.

What happened next is something we at AgingInvestor.com personally witnessed. Brenda was referred to us just before the crisis. We had established a trusting relationship by phone but first met her in the hospital. Without professional help and a transition team of committed people, she would most likely have gotten stuck in the healthcare system until her only relative could fly across the country and rescue her. She needed a suitable apartment in a seniors’ community with help at hand found in assisted living. The healthcare folks were not going to offer a transition team.

Brenda got a great deal of assistance from us, as we were able to assemble a team consisting of a psychologist, geriatric care manager, nurse-attorney (myself), mover, and a personal assistant, just to line up a plan. She needed to complete physical therapy to strengthen her so she could walk around and get settled in a new apartment. Without that, what would have happened? If statistics tell the story, she would have returned to her unsafe condo. She probably would have fallen there and ended back in the hospital, perhaps in worse shape than when she left there a few weeks earlier.

Related: The Average Advisor Has at Least 7 Clients With Some Form of Cognitive Impairment; Are You Prepared?

When you have a very independent older client, alone, who has the means to retain professionals to help plan for the next phase of their lives, it’s good advice to urge that planning on them. Making a change of one’s living arrangement in a crisis is uncomfortable and leaves few choices. Finding a suitable assisted living apartment alone can be a daunting task. In Brenda’s case, the change was thrust on her without time to consider it, think of all options and prepare emotionally for losing her independence. We were able to help her, but not everyone can immediately access and hire the right people to make such a transition easier. Brenda, on her own, would have had no idea what to do after she left the rehab facility. Going home again would have been asking for a repeat crisis, or worse.

The Takeaways:

  1. Consider every aging client in your book as having risks associated with getting older. Living alone typically can’t go on forever. Plan with them about their options.
  2. Cost of various choices such as assisted living is a factor that drives decisions. Plan with them. What budget is reasonable? Brenda’s assisted living costs over $6000 a month for basic services, which include meals and laundry but no personal care. That’s extra, as are all outside professionals.
  3. Even if your aging client is not ready to think about giving up living alone, it should be part of your job to help the client plan for the possibility. It’s real.

We hope Brenda’s story will encourage you to bring up the topic of what help an aging client in your book might need in the future. A good plan can make all the difference and you can be the guide. You need to do more than just manage the money with isolated elders. If you aren’t sure how to approach this, we offer advice at AgingInvestor.com, a nurse-lawyer, and geriatric psychologist team.

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