In one of the ancient world’s most revered literary works, Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, a tragic hero, Oedipus, returns to the city of his birth for the first time. When he arrives, he finds the city guarded by a sphinx, which has stricken the powerful city-state with a terrible plague. In order to enter, and lift the curse, Oedipus must answer the sphinx’s riddle. While there are a number of translations, the most common version of the riddle is: “What has one voice but walks on four feet in the morning, two in the the afternoon, and three in the evening?”
In the play, Oedipus quickly gives the correct answer: humans. We crawl on all fours as children, walk upright on two legs as adults, and walk with a cane in our later years. The riddle highlights the inevitable cycle of human life, where older men and women return to a state where they may need assistance to get the most out of life.
To be sure, the riddle doesn’t equate seniors with children, but the parallels between the two are undeniable. For instance, both groups have much to teach us: who among us wouldn’t be better off if we incorporated more of the wisdom and experience of seniors, and the enthusiasm and curiosity of the young, into our daily lives? The majority of similarities between the two, however, are often less philosophical and more tangible. For example:
- Seniors may need help with physical tasks as their bodies change
- Older individuals may need reminders regarding schedules and obligations
- Seniors need a trusted individual who can help them navigate challenges and plan for the future
The problem for many older adults is that, unlike children, no one is legally obligated to protect their interests or give them assistance when necessary. Adults of all ages are largely responsible for their own well-being and, while the freedom to chart our own course is empowering, it has its drawbacks. While social programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, can be a great help, the range of assistance offered to seniors is relatively limited in scope. For example, seniors don’t have a right to receive sound financial and estate planning advice. Similarly, there is no one tasked with helping them combat loneliness or remain physically and socially active. One could argue that, while child welfare is critically important, seniors, who could benefit from similar levels of care and concern, have been largely forgotten by our society and its institutions.
Thankfully, the reality isn’t all doom and gloom. There are clear and concrete steps you can take today to ensure that your future, and that of your loved ones, is the very best it can be.
But, as we’ve mentioned, no one is going to do it for you. Right or wrong, for better or for worse, the burden is on each of us to take affirmative action to secure our futures. And for those who do act, the benefits are substantial, including:
- Ensuring your financial needs are met for the duration of your lifetime
- Minimizing tax liability and preserving your hard-earned assets for your family
- Installing safeguards to protect yourself from abuse or fraud
- Putting you in control of critical decisions regarding your medical care
- Eliminating unnecessary worry over what the future might bring
- Ensuring you have the security and freedom to live life on your own terms.
As the sphinx’s riddle reminds us, if we are lucky, each of us will reach the point in our lives where we need a bit of assistance, a time when we walk on three feet. How you prepare and plan for that eventuality is up to you.