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3 Questions That Predict Your Quality of Life

December 08, 2014
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My mom lives back in the Midwest, and it’s not nearly often enough that I make the trip from Colorado to Missouri to visit.  So last month when she said she needed some work done around her house, I immediately got online, booked the flights, and made plans to see her.

I envisioned her needing some furniture moved, a wall painted or some more shelves put up on her wall (she has the walls of her apartment, where she moved about two years ago, lined with memories).  Upon arriving at her house, we visited for a while, and then I asked about the work she needed done.  I was a little surprised to learn that the “work” involved taking down her hummingbird feeders from the hooks outside her windows, and fetching her bird feeders from the top shelf of her bedroom closet.

As it turns out, the bird feeders, which she uses to provide food to the birds that stay during the winter months, were too high for her to reach, and she didn’t feel comfortable standing up on a chair.  My mom now gets around just fine as long as she can use her walker, at least for now.  That too will be changing soon, and then we’ll have to adjust her living arrangement to accommodate.

I certainly didn’t mind making the trip to see my mother, despite the fact that I suspect she could have found someone that didn’t have to jump on a plane to retrieve the bird feeders.  But the experience put into real life the messages of a recent training session I attended at the Commonwealth National Conference.

The topic of the training was 3 Questions That Predict Your Quality of Life.  The material was developed from research at the MIT AgeLab – yes, the prestigious engineering school.  The AgeLab scientists are mostly concerned with developing new technology to make things easier for seniors, but along the way they asked some questions about the quality of life that seniors experience.

MIT’s research on this topic led them to develop three questions that they claim can best predict how seniors will fare later in life.  The quality of life questions obviously are not meant to predict health issues nor are they directly related to financial resources.  These questions are more intended to help a person plan for how to handle the topics that give seniors the most stress and dissatisfaction in retirement.

Question #1:  Who Will Change My Light Bulbs?

Just as my mom used her need to retrieve her bird feeders from the top shelf of her closet to lure me to her side for a visit, every person needs to think about how basic home maintenance chores will be performed when they are no longer capable, where that home will be located, what family members will be close enough and have the time to be available to help, and whether they can financially afford the home they are currently in, and the home they will eventually need.

Question #2:  How Will I Get an Ice Cream Cone?

My father-in-law is slightly more advanced in his need for care than my mother.  One of his favorite activities is to go out for ice cream.  This question predicts whether transportation issues have been explored; whether a person’s home has easy access to services like restaurants, coffee shops, and medical care.  If ice cream is not your thing, then what will you want to do in retirement and how will you do it?

Question #3:  Who Will I Have Lunch With?

I’m sure the major reason for my mom hinting at needed home projects was loneliness; her being several hundred miles away is a major concern of mine.  Developing a social network outside of work is important for all persons, especially men.  As we enter retirement, we need to purposely think about how to stay in touch with our friends, how we will make new friends, and what we will do to fill our days.  Whether it’s our church, the local coffee shop, the golf club or interesting people we meet through a hobby, our social network will be important to our satisfaction with life.

DANIEL COOK, AIF®, CFP®
Chief Financial Officer