What is often forgotten is that retirement carries a double whammy in that ageing is combined with financial considerations. We are all getting older; and it’s like sitting on a conveyor belt, being carried along. Though the ageing process is relentless, the trick to getting older is to embrace it without fear.
Probably the most noticeable aspect of ageing after you have retired is your health. For example, many people have cataract surgery shortly after retiring. Apparently, 62 is the average age at which the need for this becomes apparent or that is what my ophthalmologist, Dr Anton van Biljon, told me while he was operating on my cataracts. So, medical security is clearly important. However, it shouldn’t overshadow everything else.
Grey hair is another reminder of ageing – that's if you have any hair left. My son always used to respond to any of my observations about life with the phrase, “What was your first clue?”, and ageing has a lot of clues. It is easy to dwell on all your bodily changes, but if you have purpose, you will find that getting older is a worthy challenge. And, you will find that you are very well equipped to tackle most of the changes.
For example; as an older person on a committee, people accept that you may take longer to respond to a remark or a proposal, and they believe that you are wiser for that. In fact, not responding quickly in most conversational situations is expected of you and your deliberate answers often carry a great deal of weight.
Dementia is frequently discussed among retired people. I think it is probably well described as a general term for a decline in mental ability, severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease is apparently a common cause of this. It seems that keeping busy and having purpose could help keep dementia at bay.
A famous study known as the Nun Study started in 1986 in America with funding from the National Institute on Aging. This study was focused on a group of 678 American Roman Catholic sisters who were members of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. The purpose of the study was to conclude if activities, academics, past experiences, and disposition are correlated to continued cognitive, neurological, and physical ability as patients got older, as well as overall longevity.
One of the major findings from the nun study was how the participants' lifestyle and education may deter Alzheimer's symptoms. Participants who had an education level of a bachelor's degree or higher were less likely to develop Alzheimer's later in life. Source Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nun_Study)
Living in Hermanus, I see pensioners playing bridge, chess, belonging to writing groups and supporting a very active chapter of the University of the Third Age, as part of their intellectual activity. The University of the Third Age (known to its friends as U3A) is an institution which provides educational matter in the form of lectures and workshops to its members who are almost entirely aged 60 or older. What makes it special is that the lectures are all delivered by retired people sharing their experience and skills.
My initial reason for moving to Hermanus was to volunteer to work in a charity bookshop, one afternoon a week, as a way to contribute to the community. I am amazed, after 9 months, at how many books older people buy.
Physical exercise is important for fairly obvious reasons, but many retirees find a gradual falling off in their abilities and strength as they age. So many see this as the natural slowing down process and welcome it and adjust their lives around that.
And of course, you have time. Time to think and time just to sit. A quote that still resonates with me is one from the Dalai Lama who apparently said; “The time you think you are wasting is often time best spent.”
I often hear people saying that it was all worth it. Good memories are a great comfort and having a sense of achievement is so heartening in helping you believe that it probably was all worth it. Which is why there is a growing trend of older people who write their memoirs, as soon as old age sets in.
Writing memoirs sounds a bit pompous, because after all, we weren’t all Generals or Chief Executives or MPs. However, I find so many people who never really had a proper idea of their parent’s lives, who now want to leave a narrative for their children, to enable them to have a clear idea of where they come from. For example, a friend of mine has a magnificent photograph album full of really interesting pictures. The only problem is that the descriptions of who is in the pictures, and where the pictures were taken, is impossible to work out.
To give an instance: “Family at Uncle Joe’s. L – R Aunt Enid, Peter, Gran, the new baby and Lulu, dog”. Great stuff, but almost completely meaningless to anyone who wasn’t there. And in the age of social media, a record that is simple and easy to follow would be better appreciated by future generations.
Believe it or not, ageing is your reward. Not necessarily one that you are excited about, but one that you must come to terms with and find the enjoyment and the challenges in. Speaking from my own perspective at 74 years of age; I’d say, life is not perfect but it’s pretty darn good! Optimism may seem a little naïve but it feels so good.
D.L. Crawford CFP ®
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