Ilona L. Tobin, Ed.D.

Licensed Psychologist

For many, the word “retirement” conjures up images of “Gramps” out in the garage making bird feeders while “Granma” serves tea following a game of bridge with the ladies. That stereotypical image, along with the idea that aging is inevitably accompanied by diminishing mental capacity, is no longer true—if, in fact, it ever was. A National Institute on Aging report, 65+ in the United States: 2005, found the 65+ population:

  • Is better educated
  • Lives longer, with a lower rate of disability and disease
  • Has more economic clout
  • Has more options for a fulfilling re-tirement than any generation before
  • Will double over the next 25 years(from 420 million worldwide to over 974 million by 2030)

Good news, for sure, but there is another factor that’s as important and can mean the difference between a happy retirement and a miserable one.

Emotional Health

Though the options for retirement have changed for the better, at this stage of life a wide spectrum of potentially negative emotions may be experienced. Emotions such as fear, helplessness and loneliness affect cognitive and emotional health and can lead to illness, anxiety and depression. According to the NIH report, almost 20% of retirees show signs of clinical depression. There are up to 33 suicide deaths per 100,000 in the 65+ population. How do you keep a healthy emotional balance?

Emotional balance can be sustained by:

  • Continuing to be mentally and physically active (brain teasers, crosswords and working out).
  • Finding or continuing meaningful employment, or contributing to society through volunteer work.
  • Preventing disease (stop smoking, healthy diet, exercise, for example)
  • Actively participating in all aspects of life; proactively expressing one self (art, dance, writing a book, being socially active, etc.).
  • Having a “Plan B.” Sailing around the world was a good idea, but now that you know you have chronic seasickness—now what?

Managing mental health is an important factor to one’s overall health and wellbeing and also leads to improved physical wellbeing. Being physically healthy allows us to bolster our resilience to life’s ups and downs, regardless of age.

Interestingly, the NIH report also suggests that more women 65+ show signs of clinical depression (18% vs. 12% for men) so it begs the question:

Do men and women view retirement differently?

Ameriprise Financial’s study, The New Retirement Mindscape II, found that, while women generally have a more positive attitude towards retirement, men are more likely to feel financially prepared.

The study also identified three key findings:

  1. Women were more inclined to want to volunteer (31% vs. 22%).
  2. Men were less inclined to seek financial planning assistance.
  3. Women were more enthusiastic about retirement (74% vs. 65%).

Whether you’re a man or woman, whether an enjoyable retirement means making birdhouses or scaling Everest, one thing is true: retirement isn’t an event, it’s a lifestyle change. And in order to ensure the most fulfilling retirement, regardless of how active, keeping one’s emotional health in balance is surely one of the keys.