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Stay fit, plan ahead, say experts on aging

Everybody ages. How you prepare for your senior years—physically, financially and emotionally—is central to aging successfully, experts say.

“People have phobias with regards to looking older,” says Heather Nichting, physical therapist and owner of Regain Physical Therapy.  People are often reluctant to accept help, even simply from a walker or cane.

As a physical therapist, Nichting advises her clients to get fit and strong, even at a very young age. Work on strength and balance well before you actually need it,” she says. “As we age, we all start to lean forward more, which throws off our balance. Posture is everything.” 

Nichting estimates that around 40 percent of her clients are over 70. Though they might not need physical therapy, they should stay strong, flexible and balanced.

“With physical therapy or exercise, it’s hard to keep people on it if they aren’t having true pain,” Nichting says.

Even in her 30s, when she was purchasing a home, Nichting looked for wide and accessible doorways and other features that would make it easier to grow older there.

A physical therapist can give a realistic assessment of the individual’s physical condition.

“We go through a lot of testing,” Nichting says. “When you can show people on paper their risk for falls—that plays a huge role.”

She believes trust is the foundation for the recommendation—and is her biggest priority.

“My top thing is building a good rapport,” Nichting says. “They listen to your recommendation much more.”

Paying attention to health and fitness helps many people live on their own for many years. But for most, the day will come when independence must be traded for safety with a move into a senior living facility.  

That requires planning. Rebecca Priest is the vice president of skilled services at St. John’s. She likens the search for a long-term elder care facility to the college search process. She suggests looking for signs of good human interaction and excellent facilities.

“Visiting and feeling the culture is important,” Priest says. “Feel the culture, because long-term care facilities really are a community.”

Though some experts encourage a surprise visit to get an authentic view of day-to-day operations, Priest says scheduling an appointment with admissions counselors is the way to go. She believes they can paint a more accurate picture and give a realistic look at options. 

Look for a place that feels like home, she says. Though assisted living and long-term care facilities provide structure for daily tasks, independence is still key.

“(Residents) want their entire day built around their freedom to choose,” Priest says.

When the time comes to find long-term care, the process is easier if seniors have planned for the transition with thorough financial planning. Donna Hichman, an elder care attorney, walks her clients through the fiscal realities of long-term care.

It starts with a consultation on the complexities of New York’s Medicaid laws. The meeting takes over an hour as Hichman goes over Medicaid rules that are specific to the client. She provides an outline so they can take away notes on the meeting.

“It’s critical to be aware of what the rules are,” she says.

While crisis planning avenues are available, everything goes more smoothly if clients know about Medicaid’s five-year look-back program and have planned their finances accordingly before they need long-term care, Hichman says.

Adult children helping their parents plan need to keep their parents’ interests at center stage, she adds. Look for experts who have the same interest.

“It’s important for an elder law attorney to remember that if they are meeting with the children, it’s still the elder that is their client,” Hichman says.

Keep this in mind even when looking for a parent’s next residence, Priest adds.

“Family members look for what feels good to them,” she says. “Then there’s the reality of what the people moving in desire. Balance what family expectations are and what the elders really are looking for.”

Greg Pokriki is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

10/14/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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