Retirement Myth #1

Retirement Myth #1: Most retirees eventually end up in nursing homes.

Not so, says Dr. John Rowe, past president of Mt. Sinai NY Hospital and current professor at Columbia. “Only 5% of people over the age of 65 live in nursing homes, and that percentage has been falling for at least 10 years.”

Rowe says the reason for such low numbers is that most older Americans are free of disabilities. “Of those ages 65 to 74, a full 89% report no disability whatsoever.” And the same is true for three of every four seniors, ages 75 to 84.

Besides, we baby boomers will change the institutions. No card-carrying boomer is going to sit in a wheelchair in front of a TV watching Lawrence Welk reruns.

We’ll put motors on those puppies, set the TV to a classic rock station, push back the chairs and play a rousing game of capture the flag.

**This piece is the first of 10 blogs that will unmask retirement myths in American culture.

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Constants

The sunrise this morning reminded me that—with all this change—there are still constants in my life.

For instance, today, I’ll teach the Searchers Class at the Methodist church in Canyon, something I began 18 years ago—before teaching at AC. Afterwards, Charlotte and I will eat out—a Sunday tradition and another constant.

Then, we’ll make a trip to the new home (a new constant) and somehow I’ll work in the obligatory afternoon nap. Tonight we’ll go out with friends (Stuart and Cindy have been in our lives for over 40 years).

Even this blog has become a constant. Knowing I’ll be writing one daily has made me more aware—always on the lookout for what life is showing me.

And, finally, you readers have become a predictable pleasure in my new routine. Whether I’m sharing the loss of our good friend Williance or poking fun at the forced togetherness of retired spouses, your comments are encouraging.

They remind me of another—maybe the best—constant in life: Good friends.

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Retired Husband Syndrome

Retired Husband Syndrome—the term was coined in 1984 by Dr. Charles Clifford, who, writing in the Western Journal of Medicine, described wives of the newly retired who said things like “I’m going nuts” and “he’s under my feet all the time.”

Clifford said these women reported “headaches, depression, agitation, palpitations and lack of sleep.”

Evidently, the condition is prevalent in Japan, too, where they have their own name for it (Shujin Zaitaku Sutoresu Shoukougu), which loosely translates One’s Husband Being at Home Stress Syndrome.”

There’s even a book about it. Miriam Goodman wrote “Too Much Togetherness” in 2011.

So I decided to address the topic head-on.

“Honey,” I asked her. “Do you have retired husband syndrome?”

“What?”

“Am I under your feet all the time?”

“Of course not.”

“Now run along and make sure you get everything on that list—don’t forget the mail. I’ll be at my sister’s.”

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Earl

After being in the carpet trade for nearly 50 years (as a salesman and owner), Earl Glenn retired in 2005 at the age of 73. “I had prostate cancer,” he told me. “It seemed the best thing to do.”

Three years later, the owner of his former business lured Earl back with promises of half-day hours (he comes in at noon) and free time when there are no customers.

“I like to work puzzles, play games and read,” said Earl. “I feel good. I gotta be doing something.”

I met Earl six years ago when Charlotte and I took over management of our rental properties. I was impressed with the effect he had on customers. He would wait on two at a time, while younger salesmen stood nearby hoping someone would come in the door who didn’t ask for Earl.

“I enjoy people. That’s the important thing,” said Earl.

Today, I had Earl measure the rooms we are carpeting in the new place. With his characteristic grin, this 84-year-old complained about the long climb to the front door and the two sets of stairs to follow.

“I oughta get paid extra for that,” he said.

No, Earl, I thought. You should be paid extra for the inspiration you’re giving me.

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50 Days of Retirement

It’s been 50 days since I closed my office door in Ordway Hall for the last time, and I have some observations:

One, the best of retirement is better than expected. Has to do with seeing dreams (creations) take shape in front of me. I’ve actually jumped up and down like a child, giddy with excitement.

Two, the struggles of retirement have been worse than expected, and they are mostly mental. Seems I am not alone. A 2013 report from the Institute of Economic Affairs found that retirement increases one’s risk of clinical depression by 40%.

Three, the good news is that the emotional issue is decidedly fixable—has to do with unmasking stereotypes and prejudices (our society is loaded with them) and taking positive steps to better mental and physical health (more on that in future blogs).

Well, gotta put this blog up and visit the new place. Did I mention? We Have a Driveway!

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The Problem with Golf

In my first golf lesson in 50 years, I hit four beauties—they went straight, high and long and made Casey the golf pro smile (he was working wonders with this old man).

The problem is I hit a total of 50 balls. Twelve of them (triple the number of beauties) dribbled a few feet off the tee. One hit a goose (no, that’s not a golfing term—a real goose).

And therein lies the problem with golf, and the reason I’ve tried to avoid it for most of my adult life.

If one manages to write a beautiful sentence, chances are another one is close behind. And more will follow. At least few will look like a first-grader wrote them.

Not so with golf.

“So what went wrong with that one”? I said to Casey the golf pro.

“Your back swing was too close to your body.”

“And that one?”

“Your back foot didn’t pivot.”

“What about that one?”

“You raised up. Keep those knees bent.”

And so the conversation went. There are over 40 ways (seriously, I counted) one can mess up a golf swing.

And that, friends, is the problem with golf.

Yes, I’m going back. Sanity has never been a strong suit.

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I’m a Future

I scored highest on Zimbardo’s future time perspective. According to him, futures are planners, keep to-do lists and balance their checkbooks (yep, that’s me).

We exercise regularly and are more likely to get yearly medical checkups. Because we sacrifice present gratification for future reward, we succeed academically.

Most importantly, futures are hopeful (that’s why we believe in the future).

The Negatives—we futures don’t help others as much as “presents” do (have the inclination but not the time). And we tend to be workaholics, giving less time to leisure activities, including vacations. Thus, futures can carry a lot of stress.

So my goals are these: Try to live more in the present, and use my future orientation to plan, work and dream, but not to stress and worry.

Sure Mike, good luck with that.

P.S. Tomorrow we will have a driveway!

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Let’s Play!

Zimbardo and Boyd say you can look for happiness in the past or future, but you “experience happiness only in the present.”

Their research shows that adults who live with a present time perspective are more playful and impulsive, are given to excitement and novelty and are spontaneous. They make friends easily and frequently, and these “presents” laugh significantly more than future and past oriented folks.

The Stanford psychologists point out that all of us begin life as presents. Children don’t look backward or forward but live in the now, which is why they spend so much time playing and laughing.

According to the doctors, in retirement we need to “ramp up” our present orientation because “successful aging is for the young at heart.”

Sounds good to me.

(I’ve written about this before)

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Forgetting What Lies Behind

The way you view your past will affect your present and your future. So say Stanford psychologists Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd in “The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life.”

According to the authors, people who are past-positive (who focus on the good things of the past) are more healthy, happy and less anxious than their past-negative friends (whose painful life experiences keep playing in their minds).

I scored as a past-positive on their Time Perspective Inventory, but I’ve noticed that when I become anxious (say, reading one of these depressing retirement books), I shift to past-negative—I start remembering those times I felt trapped and hopeless.

The good news, according to Zimbardo and Boyd, is that while we can’t change our past, we can reinterpret it (finding the positive messages and lessons that improve our future). And we can overwhelm those negative memories with positive ones—they recommend a gratefulness journal.

OK, I know it’s new research, but the advice sounds suspiciously familiar. Philippians 3 maybe? Look it up.

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West Texas Sunrise

Watching another colorful sunrise this morning and realizing that it, too, is a blessing of retirement—my classes were early and I arrived at school when it was still dark.

Am thinking that the sunrise is a good metaphor for the newly retired. The journey is not ending but beginning, with all the promise and potential of a new day in West Texas.

Now for that construction update I promised: Painters stained steps for the stairway yesterday; it’s a beautiful, open thing that looks over the family room.

And the cement guy is supposed to set forms for the driveway this morning. Hope last night’s rain won’t delay that.

Oh well, back to that sunrise.

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