The Next Stage

By Valerie Lemke

November 20, 2008 5 min read


How to make your retirement the best it can possibly be

Valerie Lemke

Creators News Service

Retirement as a stage of life is relatively new on the American scene. Until just a few decades ago, workers retired when they were no longer able to work. Now, most individuals, willing or unwilling, leave the workforce in their sixties and seventies in good health.

Typically, thoughts of this time often begin with dreams of an idyllic life doing just what you want to do -- although sometimes they are a little too late

"Most people start making plans when they are on the cusp," said Dr. Richard Dellapenna, medical director of Kaiser Permanente Aging Network in Washington, D.C. "Ideally, it should be [done] a long time in advance."

Whether you adore your job or hate it, leaving the world of work after three or four decades is going to be a huge transition. Are you ready? Are there steps to prepare you for this new life style? Are there pitfalls?

Most experts agree you should be researching answers to such questions as:

* Do I have the money to retire?

* What can I do to maintain good mental and physical health?

* What are the activities I want to include in my new lifestyle? What do I have a passion for?

* Where will I live?

* What are my feelings about leaving work?

When you retire, it's important to maintain activity and a sense of purpose in your life. "Retirement can be a great opportunity to develop and grow," Dellapenna said.

"There are a lot of positives in retirement," agreed John Keyon, a specialist in retirement and older worker issues and spokesperson for the department of gerontology at San Diego State University. "First, all research points to physical and mental activity as key to a healthy lifestyle, and you'll have the time to do both. This doesn't mean just working the crossword puzzles for the next 30 years. It means doing things of interest to you, perhaps giving back to the community and, most importantly, establishing a good social network."

You should plan for activities that engage others rather than solitary ones. "People who are alone are in a difficult situation,? he said. ?Don't be alone and lonely. Fight back."

Retirement also means being prepared for major emotional bumps in the road. For starters, moving from decades of work to retirement and a far less structured lifestyle can be a blow.

"You almost immediately lose your status," Keyon said. "Whatever occupied you before doesn't matter anymore and that's a shock to a lot of people. Our identity is so caught up with our jobs.

"This is a transitional period. Seek out other retirees who've been through it. Having friends you can confide in is paramount."

In addition, Keyon is an advocate for making retirement intergenerational. He cited as an example the marked difference between those attending live concerts in America and in other countries. Here, concerts are generally reserved for teenagers and young adults. In Europe and the Middle East, all ages attend and enjoy them -- from the youngest children to the oldest seniors.

Rather than moving into a segregated senior community, he favors the practice of "aging in place" in a multigenerational neighborhood and in your own home -- with appropriate upgrades made for safety and comfort.

Keyon noted the vast majority of the baby boomers just now beginning to retire are in good health with many productive years head of them. Will they change the face of retirement as they did the workplace?

"Boomers are different in everything, and they'll be a different generation of retirees," Keyon said. He envisions several lifestyles grouped under their retirement umbrella.

Some will pursue their passions, some the leisure lifestyle. Others will focus on contributing to the community and still others will be caregivers to their parents or spouses. "Then there are the potential retirees who cannot afford to retire and a final group questioning the whole concept of retirement -- no way are they going to retire!" he said.

This latter group may be growing. While 65 is still the perceived age for retirement, a trend is emerging and people are staying in the workforce, according to Keyon.

"Today, we have an extended lifespan," he said. "Most are likely to reach 65 in good health, and in reality could probably work another 18 years."

In today's economy, many may need to do just that.

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