Understanding the 5 Stages of Aging from Self-Sufficiency to End of Life

In the next few decades, America will experience a gerontological explosion, and it's critical that adults recognize the stages of aging to prepare for the high probability of disease and decline. Chronic illness ranks high, but it's better managed with improved healthcare and access to services.

Growing older and dealing with long-term care includes help from many people, family members, friends, medical professionals and practitioners in the community. Sometimes aging is gradual and sometimes it's abrupt with many bumps and emergencies. As people age, the majority develop at least one health problem resulting in functional decline.

Let's turn our attention to areas that address well-being. As an individual ages, the choices and resources for care become complex, and many times, more costly. As one moves through the stages, think about your needs and how to plan for long-term care. Dr. Mark Frankel is the creator of the stages of aging.

Stage 1 - Self-sufficiency

During the first stage, you are self-reliant. You manage chronic health problems and disabilities on your own and have little need for help. You prefer independence. At this time, AARP recommends that you assess your place and the community where you live. Ask, "Will my home and community support me through the major ups and downs?"

Evaluate your health, the types of care and paying for them. Create and execute the relevant legal documents, and learn how to advocate for yourself.

Stage 2 - Interdependence

At the second stage, you become reliant on others like an adult child, a partner, spouse, or a friend for assistance. And if you live alone, planning for care is even trickier. At this time, most older adults view interdependence as decline and one should start looking for independent living options offering security, meal plans, cleaning, and laundry services.

Stage 3 - Dependency

As you become more dependent for help with daily living activities like bathing, cooking, and shopping, you may experience a gradual, progressive decline in physiological functioning. At this stage, you're coping with multiple chronic conditions and pain. The advanced need for care may require you to hire outside help for personal care assistance.

Stage 4 - Crisis management

The requirement for personal care has outstripped the informal care given by family and friends, and professional care may be too costly. At this stage, the family stays in crisis management making it challenging and painful for everyone involved. Your physical health and mental conditions have declined to such a degree that you remain dependent on others.

Stage 5 - End of Life

Frankel's end of life phase occurs when you have no other choice but to move to a nursing home. It's the time you need extensive personal help. At this period, family members and friends deal with the complex end-of-life decisions, which are painful. End of life care requires support from home health aides, nursing home personnel, hospice providers, and palliative care physicians.

Each one of us will move through the phases differently, and maybe, you will skip one or two of them. So, use the stages as a framework for understanding your potential needs.