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When John Flack’s mother passed away suddenly in 2007 after a battle with liver cancer, he began to wonder whether there was anything more he could’ve done to make her living situation better. He lived on the west coast while his mother lived in Pennsylvania, making managing her care especially strenuous.
Reflecting on his mother’s final days, Flack said it inspired him to get serious about preparing for his life after retirement.
“Most people expect to get a nice retirement plan, a gold watch, and then to kick back and play golf, but that’s not what retirement is like now,” Flack, who lives in southeast Portland, says.
Nearly a decade ago, Flack became a member of AARP Oregon and started taking advantage of its various free programs and resources, like its money management program, which taught him how to “live within [his] means.”
“I joined AARP when I was 48 years old, because I needed to figure out what my retirement was going to look like, but if you have an aging parent, you really need to figure out what are you going to do,” he says.
Today, Flack volunteers for AARP through the organization’s Create the Good network, and regularly participates in Portland’s Sunday Parkways — educating passersby on how to engage with older residents in their community by hosting neighborhood walk programs, and how to create accessible, multi-generational housing plans for their family’s future.
The difficulties Flack faced throughout the last seven years of his mother’s life, tending to her care nearly 3,000 miles away, are ones he hopes to help others avoid. His goal is to not have people blindsided by the prospect of getting older, but help them prepare for it.
However, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic made it increasingly difficult for those nearing retirement to thoughtfully plan out their futures, and has put an increased pressure on unpaid caregivers of older adults as well. Those without full-time, live-in care are struggling now more than ever to receive the care and attention they need.
According to recent AARP research, the average amount caregivers spend each year averages $7,240 – and for some, the cost of care for a loved one totals 26% of their household income. The study also found that 8 in 10 respondents routinely spend their own money on caregiving, and half experienced financial setbacks associated with caregiving, made worse by the pandemic.
Right now, Congress is considering a bipartisan bill called the Credit for Caring Act that would provide a tax credit of up to $5,000 to eligible caregivers, helping to ease the financial strain of nearly 48 million unpaid caregivers across the country.
“Unpaid family caregivers are the true backbone long-term care providers,” says AARP State Director Bandana Shrestha.
The act, sponsored by AARP, is currently supported by senators like Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Joni Erns (R-Iowa). The best thing family caregivers can do to help the legislation pass is to urge their local officials to support the bill.
Like many others, the pandemic proved to be very isolating for Flack. During the first few months of lockdown, all of his volunteer work moved to Zoom, which made him realize how essential social interaction is for many caregivers and older adults.
It’s also put into focus how necessary it is to create livable communities. He plans to continue to advocate for better infrastructure — sidewalks and crosswalks designed with older pedestrians in mind, bike lanes, and connections to parks and green spaces.
Along with the resources of AARP, and through his volunteer work, Flack feels better prepared for retirement now more than ever. He’s even built his own “life-long,” multi-generational home, with three living spaces and a studio attached for when he gets older and doesn’t need a lot of square footage.
“None of us want to admit that we’re going to need help someday,” he says. “I always stress that AARP is not just for people of a certain age, it’s for anybody.”