This post is a little darker than usual. I’m an upbeat guy and I tend to write positive uplifting blog posts. For example, I recently asked Can You Become A Millionaire? The answer is – of course, you can. You just need to have a positive mindset and keep working to get there. However, life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Adversity is inevitable. I’ve been extremely lucky and had a smooth early retirement so far. Life has been amazing since I retired from my engineering career 9 years ago. Unfortunately, all good streaks must end. Today, I’ll share my big adversity in early retirement. This feels like airing dirty laundry, but I’m obligated to share the bad as well as the good in my life. Early retirement isn’t 100% perfect all the time like many FIRE influencers would like you to believe.
*This post was originally written in 2018. Updated 2021.
Everyone has a plan until…
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”Mike Tyson
I’ve always liked this quote from Mike Tyson. Everyone has a plan until something goes wrong, as most plans will. Unforeseen circumstances and random factors in life will get in the way. (For example, Covid…) You can’t predict everything and it won’t always work out in your favor. When you get punched in the mouth, you’ll have to make some adjustments. You can’t stick with the same plan rigidly when something goes wrong because it won’t work.
Anyway, here is my first encounter with a big problem after early retirement. In 2018, my mom started her struggle with dementia. (She lived with us at the time.) My mom had some problems in previous years, but it wasn’t too bad. She could do almost everything herself and only needed help occasionally. The neurologist diagnosed her with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) in 2017. MCI is the stage between normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia. Unfortunately, her condition worsened considerably over the last few years. Now, she needs help with almost everything. This was a huge problem in 2018 because she lived with us.
Dementia is a big problem
Her problems started in July 2018 after we came back from our CA road trip. My mom stayed with my brother’s family over the summer and I drove down to bring her back to Portland. The scenic road trip back took 3 days and she got more and more confused as the drive went on. When we got back to Portland, she was hearing voices and couldn’t think clearly. She occasionally stayed up all night because she thought there were people in our home, bugs going in her ears, or some other hallucination. It was a difficult time for us. I took her to various doctors and they tried different medications with varying degrees of success. We had to move RB40Jr into our bedroom because she kept bothering him at night. They shared a bedroom previously and didn’t have any problems before the hallucination started. (Quetiapine helped with the hallucination, but it took a long time to get the right diagnostic and prescription.)
The big problem was long-term care. My mom started to lose her English fluency. It’s part of dementia. From what I understand, they revert to their first language as the disease progress. My mom occasionally talked to RB40Jr and Mrs. RB40 in Thai. They couldn’t speak Thai and didn’t know to respond when this happened. Down the road, we’ll need help and it’ll be near impossible to hire a caretaker who speaks Thai. A long-term care facility probably wouldn’t work if they can’t communicate. At first, we tried to figure out a solution where she can continue to live in the US, but it just doesn’t work. By the end of 2018, we decided to move her to Thailand where she has families and people can understand her. When I retired from my full-time career, I didn’t factor my parent’s health into the equation. I had to make some adjustments so she can get the help she needed. Let’s take a quick look at my early retirement plan.
Original early retirement plan
My original early retirement plan is relatively simple.
- I retired in 2012 to become a SAHD/blogger.
- Mrs. RB40 liked her job and plan to work until she’s in her 50s.
- My mom stayed with us half of the year and with my brothers when it’s cold and rainy in Portland.
- We planned to live in Portland until RB40Jr finishes high school. Once he goes to college, we’ll sell everything and go live in Asia part-time for 3 to 4 years.
- You can read more about our early retirement withdrawal strategy. Finance wasn’t a big concern because we had passive income, online income, and my wife’s income.
Minor change to the early retirement plan
By 2021, the plan has changed a bit. Mrs. RB40 wants more time for herself. She still wants to work, but her retirement target date moved up. She has one more year syndrome and continues to work.
- RB40Jr started going to school and my life became much easier. I had a routine and I could work on my blog regularly.
- Mrs. RB40 now plans to retire in 2022. She wants more time to do her own thing, but she likes working too. Hopefully, she’ll stick to this date.
- At the end of 2018, my mom moved to Thailand and my dad took care of her. Her dementia deteriorated and by 2021, she needs a lot of help with everything. For now, she can still live at home, but I don’t know for how long.
- I try to visit for at least 4 weeks every year. In 2020, I didn’t go because of Covid.
First major adversity
In 2018, I faced my biggest adversity in early retirement so far and it was a big one. I tried to learn as much as I can about dementia. The problem with dementia is that you don’t get better. It’ll only worsen as you age. With the language problem in mind, we needed to make some big changes to accommodate my mom. We moved my mom to Thailand. My dad can take care of her at first and hire caretakers later. It’s much more affordable there.
It’s been 3 years since we moved my mom to Thailand. It was a good decision because she was able to spend time with friends and families while she was relatively healthy. By 2021, she can’t travel much anymore. In Portland, she doesn’t have any friends. Her condition worsens considerably, though. She became much frailer in just 2 and a half years. Now, she needs help with almost everything. If we didn’t move her to Thailand in 2018, we’d have to put her in a nursing home in Portland. I wouldn’t have been able to take care of her and my son at the same time. She needs constant supervision or she’d wander off. Also, life in a nursing home in Oregon would have been terrible during the COVID pandemic. I wouldn’t have been able to visit and who knows what else could have happened. (There were 0 new Covid cases in Chiang Mai while I was there. Life was pretty close to normal.)
Related topic: Retirement Options for Foreigners in Thailand. I visited a retirement resort in Chiang Mai a couple of years ago.
My mom’s dementia continues to worsen as expected. Here is the summary.
2018 – My mom had hallucinations and couldn’t sleep well. I moved her to Thailand. She still functioned pretty well and my dad took care of her.
2019 – I visited for 4 weeks. Her condition declined, but my dad could handle it. She was mostly lucid and could still do most things by herself – take a shower, eat, go to the bathroom, etc… She would wander off if left unsupervised. She couldn’t find her way home at that point.
2020 – I didn’t visit due to COVID. My mom had a few health events that year. She wandered off and had a very bad fall and maybe a small stroke. After that, her physical condition got a lot worse. Her left side was very weak. She can’t follow instructions very well.
2021 – I braved the quarantine and visited for 6 weeks. I can see that it’s been very stressful for my dad. He helps her with everything and it’s wearing him down. I suggested that he hire a caretaker to help in the afternoon after I leave. That will give him a few hours a day to decompress. At this point, she can’t do much. She needs help with getting dressed, showering, eating, going to the bathroom, putting on shoes, and pretty much everything else. We’ll try to keep her living at home as long as we can. From what I hear, the condition worsens extremely quickly once you go into a dementia care facility.
2022 – I hope to spend a year in Thailand and travel around SE Asia. My parent would love to have me around more. I’m not sure we could pull it off, though. Stay tuned to see if we can pull it off.
Uncertainties – Mrs. RB40 parents are also getting older. They probably will need help at some point as well. They live in Southern California. My dad lives in Thailand. He’s going strong and doesn’t need help yet. However, he is 75 so I don’t know how long we can depend on him to take care of my mom. This is the primary reason why I want to spend more time in Thailand.
Money – Finances aren’t the biggest consideration for us. Although, it will be much more affordable to care for a dementia patient in Thailand than in the US. It costs less than $2,000/month for a dementia facility. Hiring a caretaker to help out at home is much less expensive than that. My mom is 72 years old and doesn’t have any retirement savings. The cost of her care will be divided 3 ways between my brothers and me. Collectively, we send them $1,500/month and can increase it as needed.
My mom’s dementia problem really was unexpected. Her family didn’t have any history of this disease. She seems healthy physically and doesn’t have any cardiovascular problems. It was a big surprise for us. Actually, it’s fortunate that I’m already retired so I can take care of her in 2017 and 2018. I took her to see social workers, doctors, and many specialists. If I was working full-time, I wouldn’t have been able to do that.
Adversity is part of life. All of us will face it someday. The important thing is to keep a positive attitude, learn from it, be flexible, and grow. Dementia is a huge problem, but at least I’m learning about it in my 40s. Now I know the typical American lifestyle doesn’t deter the development of dementia. We need to eat much healthier, exercise more, challenge our brain, and stay socially engaged as we age. I’ll work hard to prevent dementia because you can’t wait until you get it. It’s a progressive disease that has no cure and no treatment yet. I don’t want to get dementia when I’m 70. That’s just 22 years away. I want more time than that.
Alright, thanks for listening. This is one good thing about having a blog. I can write about my adversity rather than talking to a psychologist about it. We’ll try to stay positive and adjust our plan to make the best of it. I wouldn’t mind living in Thailand for a few years. It’ll be an adventure. Well, a few years might be too much. I’ll shoot for at least one year.
Have you faced adversity lately? DO you have any tips for when things don’t work out as planned?
Starting a blog is a great way to save money on your therapy bill, build your brand, and generate some extra income. Check out my tutorial if you’re thinking about blogging – How to Start A Blog and Why You Should.
Photo by Charlotte Karlsen
Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!
Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.
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