Does retirement mean we’re getting OLD?

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Ah, retirement.  Most look forward to a time of enjoyment of life and everyone wants to age successfully in retirement.  Do we ever really consider what it takes to age successfully?  It is a new responsibility that few of us consider in our vision of how we expect to live after the end of a long work life.Successful aging can be boiled down to a few basic components. These have to do with overcoming our culturally reinforced negative mindset about aging in general.
Jack 85yrs Triathlete

Jack 85yrs Triathlete

We don’t necessarily revere the aged. We may refuse to see ourselves as aging. We hate the word “elderly” unless we’re talking about our parents or grandparents. We ourselves couldn’t possibly be elderly!  Who needs to deal with it if we’re not there yet, right?And yet, successful aging requires taking responsibility for the fact that we are moving toward being elderly ourselves.  

So, the first component of successful aging is to overcome reluctance to face aging.What does that mean?  If we cant to be confident and empowered as we age, we need to bear in mind the adage that no one gets out of here alive.
First and easiest is the paperwork. We need to  have our estate planning done and updated. Every document our lawyers want us to sign needs to be fully signed and ready when needed. They will be needed. That’s what we are reluctant to face. My estate planning lawyer friends tell me that most people do not do estate planning (will, trust, power of attorney, healthcare directive as basics). Studies and articles confirm his.
These colleagues tell me that they go to all the effort to prepare the necessary documents and lots of clients don’t ever even sign the paperwork. It’s too much reality and they they can’t accept it. Their reluctance mirrors a general society-wide attitude that death is optional and it may not happen to me.  Overcoming one’s own reluctance is part of successful aging. Acceptance of aging is fundamental.  Embracing it gives you confidence.Another component is to be informed about the healthy aging process.  

Most of us just don’t want to learn about aging until we are dealing with an age-related problem ourselves.  Before that, ignorance isn’t bliss. It’s risk. For example, if we study what makes others successful as they age, we can learn how they do it.

Things like daily doses of humor, exercise and getting rid of unhealthy things in our diet and lifestyles can really help us. As an example, I often think of comedian, writer and actor George Burns, who lived to be 100 and and worked at what he loved until shortly before his death. If you look at his lifestyle, you see all the essentials of successful aging.  He was happy in his work. He exercised in his pool daily.  He laughed at aging itself as well as his own age-related limitations.  He did a lot of things in an ideal way and he reaped the benefits of his choices.  He must  have educated himself about what to do.  We don’t learn this in school unless it is our professional field of study.  Healthy aging research is abundant, as lifespans are increasing. Read up, as exemplary seniors can inspire all of us.

Prepare for your own successful aging by taking action.   I look at how my own grandmother lived as she aged. She died at 93 after  successfully navigating her own aging process for many years.  She was widowed and lived alone, but maintained her house as a comfortable place for her children and grandchildren to visit. She had the means, which helps, but it was intentional to create an atmosphere around her where family would want to visit.  And they did.  Engagement with family and frequent visitors kept her involved in positive things. She read daily and worked crossword puzzles. She followed world politics and world news. She went outside for at least a mile walk every day. She stayed active in her local church, and community organizations for as long as she was able to get out.  As she became more frail and developed dementia, she stayed at home with a full time caregiver. Family were around her constantly. She died in her own bed, in the presence of family, probably with no regrets. I always thought she modeled a good way to go out of this life.  She taught me that aging is not a passive thing. You need to put energy into it.

If we want aging to be a successful long term proposition for ourselves, we have to look at how it gets to be long term and how we keep our vitality.  We can’t expect healthy aging to be merely a matter of luck.  At least being informed and inspired by those who manage this phase of life successfully can inspire us to take action in our own lives.

Retirement opens the door to change our focus from our work lives to our opportunity to make aging a positive experience. It will probably involve some limitations from the wear and tear of years of living in our bodies, but that need not stop us from healthy aging.  My hope is that with millions of Boomers retiring every year, that our generation will embrace aging as something more than we were before, not something less.  Let that be a resolution.

Thanks for listening

Carolyn Rosenblatt & Dr. Mikol Davis

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