Think back three years to what you saw as your priorities and where your future was headed.
Chances are, things have changed courtesy of a global pandemic that forced us all to rethink what really matters in our lives.
New research commissioned by insurer Australian Seniors reveals that most over-50s now prioritise their physical health, reconnecting with family and maintaining their independence through retirement.
It shows the pandemic has influenced more than six in 10 (64 per cent) of over-50s, encouraging them to take stock of what makes a meaningful and fulfilled quality life, and reflect on what this means for their future.
The Quality of Life 2022 Report surveyed more than 5000 Australians over 50 to explore what matters most to them, as well as their attitudes towards retirement and the future of care.
The findings suggest that overall, older Australians have developed a well-rounded definition of quality of life beyond the pandemic, citing good physical health (87 per cent), being financially comfortable (85 per cent), good mental health (82 per cent), and living independently for as long as possible (79 per cent) as key components.
Deputy director of the Centre for Ageing, Cognition and Wellbeing at Macquarie University, Dr Carly Johnco, said older adults have been resilient in their emotional response to the pandemic, often because they tend prioritise close relationships, meaning and emotional contentment.
"The pandemic in many ways has forced everyone to become more aware of their mortality, with many people taking stock of their life circumstances and reprioritising the things that matter to them," she said.
A reflection on what matters most in the present has also influenced expectations for the future, with as many as one in three (36 per cent) retirees admitting that their priorities for a quality life in retirement had changed, particularly regarding family and health.
While possible health care needs (65 per cent) have always been somewhat of a staple priority when determining retirement plans, recent events have made financial stability and mental wellbeing a focus, with costs (58 per cent), maintaining a sense of purpose (43 per cent), and finding meaningful ways to spend time (42 per cent) becoming common considerations.
The value of living independently for as long as possible ranked as the highest concern (61 per cent) among over-50s when considering future living arrangements.
Beyond this, other common anxieties towards retirement plans seem to ladder back to financial security, with general financial pressures (42 per cent) and the affordability of retirement villages (36 per cent) following as leading concerns.
Reconnecting with values of family, community, and living independently has manifested in a strong preference for home care among the vast majority (82 per cent), while the pandemic, conversely, has tainted perceptions of aged care facilities for nearly half (48 per cent).
While the popularity of home care has risen steadily in recent years, the pandemic has brought to light some of its greatest advantages including living in a familiar location, near famil, health care support, or within an established community.
On the flip side, the popularity of home care also proves a deterrent for more than a third of seniors who are discouraged by long waiting lists.
Other concerns around home care include finding a suitable carer to trust, being able to afford it, and organising a suitable package.
"Older Australians have always shown a preference for staying in their home as they age, mainly due to having mixed feelings about receiving support and feeling more comfortable to receive this from people they know," Dr Johnco said.
"The pandemic has highlighted some of the challenges associated with aged care facilities, such as reduced access to family members during end-of-life care and reinforcing people's preferences to keep living independently at home where possible."
Regardless of their preferred living arrangement, its not uncommon for many older people to worry about how their future plans will impact their loved ones. In fact, as many as a quarter of those surveyed admit they worry about burdening their children.
Although the majority agree it's important to have conversations around aged care needs with their family, nearly half who are yet to have this conversation anticipate it being difficult to talk about.
"Planning for retirement and old age can confront us with thoughts about a range of negative scenarios, including how we might need to change our lifestyle in the case of physical health problems, housing, finances and social relationships," Dr Johnco said.
"It's very normal to want to avoid situations or topics that make us feel anxious or uncomfortable, so it's unsurprising that many Australians have delayed their retirement planning or have avoided having conversations about retirement planning with loves ones altogether.
"However, avoiding retirement planning doesn't make it easier in the long run, and can result in poorer outcomes when the appropriate plans have not been put in place."
Dr Johnco said breaking down the conversation around retirement planning into separate topics, whether it be financial, health, social or housing, can be easier than trying to tackle all the possible issues at once.
"Perhaps you could initially mention to a family member that you would like to set up a future time to discuss retirement and care plans or ask them to help you collect some information about one area of retirement planning to get them started," she said.
"Having a close friend or family member support you as you consider the information can also help to keep the planning on track and avoid the urge to give up when it gets hard."
The events around COVID-19 and lockdowns have seen 44 per cent of seniors desire to live closer to family.
When asked about their biggest concerns for the future, the most common responses were dealing with health issues, where the world is going, welfare and happiness of their family, running out of money, navigating the aged care system, and losing control.
Seniors are more likely optimistic than pessimistic about the year ahead but, overall, most likely realistic. However, 58 per cent are minimally or not confident that life will largely return to "normal" in 2022.
Retirees find more confidence through feeling valued and finding purpose even more so than typically common health and financial goals.
Despite the importance of money to support our retirement dreams, 63 per cent don't have financial plans in place or only vague ones. Only 14 per cent have documented or professional plans.
The Quality of Life report forms part of the Australian Seniors Research Series.
Read the full report HERE
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