• Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

While I want to focus on the opportunities for a vital life after retirement, there are those who feel that it’s just as important to tell the other side of the story: that aging is a time of decline and loss, that our society views aging with revulsion, that 78 million baby boomers moving into their sixties will break the Social Security and Medicare banks, that 40% of those boomers will find themselves having to take care of their parents while still supporting their own children and that the growth of the over 85 segment of the population will create huge challenges becaes of the cost of caregiving.

Dr. Lillian Rubin (a psychologist who is 82 herself) in her book “60 On Up, the Truth About Aging in America” states that, while it’s great to hear about the exploits of 80 and 90 year old achievers, it’s the rare person who has the will or the financial resources to think about climbing mountains and jumping from planes – the stories that claim media attention. For most of us facing a very long age, the question is “Now What?…What will sustain us – emotionally, economically, physically, and spiritually?”

She discusses the challenge of finding meaning in a society where dignity and respect are associated with work and productivity, how to have relevance in a socity that idolizes youth. She quotes a retireing businessman saying “I think I’ve acquired some wisdom over the years, but there doesn’t seem to be much demand for it.” Particularly poignant is her description of retirment communities where the newly retired go to enjoy themselves, where frenetic busyness “begins to pale into more of the same and the sense that there must be more to life than this begins to take hold”. As a South Florida resident, I have been to social events at various “active adult” communities and what I see are the once active adults who are now on walkers and in wheelchairs, while the communities scramble to bring in the younger retiree so as not to lose the aura of being a lively place.

One of the biggest losses as one ages, along with the loss of spouse and family members, is the loss of friends, particularly the loss of friends who share our history, who knew us “when”. Even if you’ve had friends across generational lines, as you age these friendships fall away, because the younger people are too busy with their lives. I have had friendships with people much older than myself and have felt the difficulty of holding on to “a connection that no longer has the same vitality”. You watch the person lose their zest for life, their energy. It’s a paradox: we want to still have a place in the world and yet we may withdraw into a quieter, more contemplative, and lonely place as we tire.

Dr. Rubin also debunks the notion that there will be a major transfer of wealth to the baby boomer generation from their parents. This theory is based on the assumption that financial assets will increase in value over time, which, with the recent collapse of our financial markets, looks less realistic. Also, if the parents live to 90 or more, they will need much of that money to sustain themselves. Rather than inheriting much, baby boomers may find themselves having to support aging parents. No matter how loving the relationship, there are bound to be feelings about the money being drained away by eldercare. Since recent statistics show that half of households nearing retirment have less than $55,000 in savings, it will be quite a challenge for many to financially survive their own retirements, much less provide for their parents too. Along with the financial issues, are the emotional conflicts between adult children and their aging parents as attempts to help are viewed as intrusions by the parents. Presently, I am watching this struggle as my son attempts to provide care for his father (my former husband) who almost died before he was placed in a rehab facility and is now angry with his son about the loss of autonomy, at the same time wanting his son to give up his life plans to take care of him because he doesn’t want to spend money on an assisted living facility.

Dr. Rubin makes an effective case that, while our parents might have stumbled into a lengthy old age without a clue, our generation can choose to face facts, the hard realities described above, and prepare better, while working to change economic and social policies to deal with these issues. Based on my previous career as a financial advisor, I know that there are many strategies available to cope with many of the issues we will all face. I also know most people have not been realistic in their planning.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
Leave a Reply