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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Seeking Financial Comfort For Retirement [1]

          A search of my Third Age Learning blog posts reveals little mention of the financial aspects of retirement.  Financial planning is probably the single most important factor in successful retirement.  It has been reported that 75% of the participants in a retirement workshop in Nigeria felt that the discussion of investment opportunities and other financial matters best suited their expectations. They also indicated that they would like to have been exposed to these ideas earlier in their careers. In the end almost 90% “agreed that the gains of the workshop would assist them in adjusting well in retirement.”

         The team of workshop coordinators, led by Jack Noone at Massey University in New Zealand gathered this next information.
They used the Process of Retirement Planning Scale (PRePS) to find out how people are preparing for their futures. The scale explores responses to financial, health, reflection on roles Issues, thinking of ways to spend one’s time, and ways to prepare for retirement. My goal in this blog entry is to concentrate on people’s thinking about finances. Along with non-financial items people were asked to explore:

1. How much thinking they had been doing about future finances
2. How clear they were about financial issues for retired people
3. What financial goals they had developed.

         They found that:  “…those undertaking higher levels of retirement planning showed a greater tendency to look to the future and felt more in control of their lives.”  In addition they found that  “…financial planning leads to greater well-being regardless of household income.” We can begin by developing knowledge about our pension systems and investments.  The sooner the better! I am meeting with my pension and investment planners next week

NOONE J.H., STEPHENS,C. AND ALPASS F. (2010)  The Process of Retirement Planning Scale (PRePS) Development and Validation, Psychological Assessment, Vol 22, (3), 520-531 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Controling our Lives: Before and After Retirement

       I have for the most part enjoyed the independence provided by my career choice to become a university professor.  It is occasionally stressful when students have difficulty distinguishing between the amount of effort they put into studies and the quality of that effort.  Some post secondary institutions have adopted a “business model”.   In this regard, students may see themselves as customers and their instructors as service providers who are there to entertain them.  All this considered I continue to enjoy working with my students. 
         So what does this have to do with retirement?  One of the key factors in pre- and post-retirement literature is the amount of control a person has over his or her life. This has been connected with the amount of stress experienced. Another factor is about having the opportunity learn new things.  For sure over the years since I began work I have had opportunities to develop and learn new ways of being, in part through interaction with many persons including students, staff and colleagues.
         Because I have only been working part time during the past five years and due to my wife’s broken ankle I have taken on more activities at home including shopping, sweeping, cooking and yard maintenance. These activities help me stay active and take some of the burden off of my wife who taking courses in her third year studying Fine Arts at our University.
         It is important that we engage in activities that are motivated by our own interests and feelings rather than doing things as a means to an external goal e.g. finding new employment so we can continue to pay or bills. (Yes of course the bills do need to be paid!) It is best if we can concentrate on developing internal desires without forgetting about external needs.        
         An important thing about retirement, expressed in Continuity Theory, is maintaining some connections with our sense of self during our years of employment. I am doing this in part by creating and marketing my retirement and other workshops (wisdom &memory). I will still be a learning facilitator. I am beginning to make contacts in the volunteer and business communities; the bridge I am creating between work and retirement is getting stronger.
         In summary successful retirement is about being able to maintain self-control and continue to face new challenges throughout our lives.   I hope this is happening for you. If you know anyone who might be interested in sponsoring a workshop please let me know.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Retirement and Lifelong Learning [1}

         Most people tend to see retirement as an event or an episode.  We prepare for it, or don’t, and then we experience it in either positive or negative ways.  There is a growing body of literature that supports the idea of retirement, as a continuation of a lifelong learning process.  The following material builds on ideas from Hodkinson et al’s study, which explores ways to enhance our retirement and pre-retirement experiences.
         The researchers followed 120 people between 25 and 80 years old for four years, and accumulated 750 hours of interview material.
They used this data to gain understanding of how the retirement processes work.  The foundation of their thinking is that the “third age” as a concept and process has only been used for the last few generations. Prior to that, in agricultural societies elder farmers, like my grandfather & grandmother, “stepped down” and let younger people in the family take charge.
         The major premise of Hodkinson et al’s research is that retirement is not a single event. It is an adjustment process, which must be examined.   For some it may involve a somewhat long period of uncertainty.  For others, it is “a way out of an undesirable situation” rather than something that is attractive in it’s own right. 
In my own history, I fought being forced into mandatory retirement a few years ago.  Since then I have remained at work as a part-time instructor. This coming August I am now preparing to voluntarily retire with a much more positive attitude.
         Hodkinson and his co-researchers report that sometimes retirement can become very burdensome.   For example one person was forced into retirement when he was 50. Then his second marriage broke up. He sold his house and got a mobile home. Then he unsuccessfully started a new business.  It floundered and he also got Parkinson’s disease.  He is unable to drive his car and has become a “bit of a hermit”

Retirement as a Process
         Retirement can be seen as an extended transitional process including pre-retirement anticipation, planning and preparation.  In the researcher’s words “…retirement itself is a process of becoming and learning that is an integral part of the process—not something separate from it.” 
         The things we learn are part of everyday life. We are in the process of becoming all of our lives. With our skills, knowledge and understanding we are constantly constructing and reconstructing our lives and interpretations of our surroundings.
         Besides our work, it is helpful to see our family, homes, community and leisure activities as part of our learning culture and we must remember, “The retirement process entails a complex mix of continuity and change.”
         How can we improve our retirement learning?  There are courses that can be taken often sponsored by senior’s organizations attached to universities. For instance where I teach we have a very active seniors group appropriately called Third Age Learning at Kwantlen (TALK).  It produces workshops and seminars concerning all aspects of the Third Age. They sponsor recreation also encourage volunteering as another helpful activity.
         The article concludes with the following paragraph.  “If we are to help people to face the challenges and to benefit from the opportunities that retirement can bring, we need to do three things; (a) find ways to increase the chances of productive retirement learning; (b) find ways to support those learning in constructing their own sense of fit; and (c) find ways to help them to increase their understanding of the processes and stages by making these transparent.”
[1]  Hodkinson, P. et al (2008).  Retirement as a learning process, Educational Gerontology, 34, 1521-0472 online

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Who Am I As I Enter Retirement: Additional Thoughts

         Some time ago I created a post entitled: “Who am I Now: The Challenge of Retirement”.  At that time I concluded with the words,  “Retirement is a good time to drop labels and be who we really are."  This type of thinking may be connected with the process of elder wisdom, which concentrates on re-evaluating what behavior is really important in the here and now and resolving the conflict between integrity and despair.
     The following ideas are based on an article by Ursina Teuscher, a researcher at the University of California, San Diego.[i]  In Teuscher's research, the question  is asked about the changes people have in self-image after they retire.  Whatever I say to myself, beginning next September it is highly likely that  it will include being a former Psychology Professor.   
      Teuscher used a survey, which she had translated from German into English.  First, I will go through the questions in the survey and answer  some of them from my own perspective. 1. How satisfied am I with my body fitness? Well I feel pretty good about it. I ride my bike in pleasant weather and currently walk back and forth to work, (about 45 minutes) once a week and I accept that I am no longer a university football player.  2. Building on the last question I also go on brief hikes with one of my son’s when he visits.  3. I believe that I have good relationships beginning with the love of my wife and ranging to members of the department where I work and members of the Senior's Centre Board where I am a member.  Severeal days ago, as I left a department meeting early, several professors waved goodbye. They are not my closest friends but they cared enough to wave.  4. My interests, besides teaching include, being on the board of the local Seniors Centre, and designing workshops to take into the community, including retirement, wisdom, and memory workshops  5. My mental capacities are ok but I do experience a growing problem with remembering people’s names. 6. I believe that I am respected by members of the community as well as my family and friends. 7. I don’t think that I am the best looking guy on the block but I look at my self in the mirror and I feel ok.  After all what are you supposed to look like when you’re 71.  8. Financially I could be in better shape.  I’ve been working part-time for the last five years and my pension and workshop fees will be ok but I don’t expect to be able to fly around the world on vaction.  9. Finally, my life in general is ok. My dad died in his mid seventies from cancer. My mother is still alive at 95 and I hope that to some degree longevity has certain genetic factors and that I got those genes from my mom.
         The researcher's  next set of questions have to do with attitudes toward “old age.” I am particularly interested in ageist attitudes, I designed our department's aging course and have taught it for the last 12 years. The only research studies I have ever put my heart into are about ageism. My interest of old age focuses on exploring several things including the rise of Wisdom and the importance of memory and longevity..
     Getting back Tuescher's main interests, the participants in the research  were asked questions about the “different domains” of their identity.  There are fourteen of them listed below.
 “If you had to characterize yourself, which of the following points are important to you?  
1.   My Nationality
2.   My roles within my family (parent-,grandparent etc)
3.   My partnership
4.   My profession or occupation (for retirees: my former profession
5.   Honorary posts or volunteer work
6.   Characteristics of my body/ my appearance
7.   Characteristics of my personality
8.   My age
9.   My life story
10.      The associations and organizations I belong to
11.      My circle of friends
12.      My leisure time activities
13.      My values or my belief
14.      For retirees: the fact that I am retired

       She was surprised to find out that the professional domain was as important for the retired persons as it was for those yet to retire.  In conclusion“The loss of the professional role after retirement apparently did not lead to a loss of professional identity."


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Counseling and Retirement Preparation [1]

          I recently came across a very interesting article focused on retirement counseling.  Information about how to access to this article is displayed at the bottom of this post.  The authors live in Nigeria. As with most retirement studies much of the article concentrates on financial issues. But there are also some valuable social and psychological comments.
         The authors suggest that  “… at the real retirement stage, the individual is expected to have completed all necessary arrangements on retirement and can now decide on what to do with life…” 
         They also cite an article in which more than half of the sample reported that they were not fully prepared for retirement.  Failure to be adequately prepared can lead to “…feelings of guilt, anger, denial, fatigue or a blurred future” 
         The researchers suggest that people should identify what they want to do and continually review and revise their plan to accomplish their goals.  In the article the first set of questions are very compatible with the financial questions listed on most financial retirement planning websites (google and see).  For example: “How much money will it take to support my household?” and “How will my assets, liabilities; expenses and savings change during retirement?
     The authors also give some social suggestions that I find very useful.  For example:
1. Persevere and remain optimistic – No matter how difficult the circumstance, have confidence that the basic values you stand for will sustain you, and don’t give up on yourself.
2. Before retiring decide how you are going to spend the eight hours or more you used to devote to work. Retirement is another vocation you have to prepare for.
3. If you want to volunteer work to fill you time then find an activity you enjoy. If you don’t it will be boring.

         If someone asked you about dealing with non-financial factors of retirement, what activities and relationships would you give? 

[1] J.B. Asonibarev  Retirement and Retirement Counseling: Issues and Challenges.  (Google)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Use it or lose it and Mental Retirement [1]

         Most people have probably heard the phrase “use it or lose it.” In this blog entry the term is connected with the process of cognitive aging and retirement.  It suggests that as we grow older we can at least slow down the process of mental decline by engaging in cognitively demanding activities that exercise the mind.  Recent research, however, has raised some questions about this “mental-exercise hypothesis”
         To explore this question the researchers surveyed a large number of persons from the USA, England, and eleven European countries. They were able to conclude that retirement may cause a decrease in a person’s cognitive ability relative to staying in the labour force and refer to this process as the “mental retirement effect”.
         They cite a recent article that asks if retirement leads to depression. The authors reach an opposite conclusion that people who are depressed select retirement. Surprisingly it was found that retirement often reduces depressive symptoms.
         Another area of mental losses in retirement may be seen in the relationship between Human Capital and Cognition, specifically fluid and crystallized intelligence. Human capital refers to the stock of competences, knowledge and personality attributes embodied in the ability to produce economic value.  Fluid intelligence is the processing part of intelligence including reasoning, memory and self-focused thinking. Crystallized intelligence is our accumulated information over our lifetime.  It has been theorized that as we age our thinking process (fluid intelligence) slows down but our potential for finding wisdom increases.
         The authors formulate a conclusion about Mental Retirement.  It is that we engage in more mental effort while we are working. In fact the term “use it or lose it” assumes that after we retire we may lose cognitive stimulation and environmental challenges.  Unless we take specific action to keep cognitively active, mental retirement involves moving into an “unengaged lifestyle.” 
         It’s more than doing crosswords or finding words in my Giant Book Word Seeks that I mentioned in an earlier blog entry.  Retirement is a major change in life style.  Early retirement in particular, “… appeared to have a significant negative impact on the cognitive ability of people in their early 60’s.
         In the North America the trend toward early retirement is being reversed.  People like myself are working beyond 65, the standardized retirement age.  So, in the end the researchers conclude that longer time at work can be good not only for the society but for the older person’s cognitive capacities.  This appears to support the phrase "Use it our Lose it."

[1] Much of this material was taken from a journal article “Mental Retirement” by Suann Rohwedder & Roberth Willis. The title of the article is Mental Retirement. it was downloaded through google

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Aging and Wisdom

I have taught the Aging course at my University for many years. One of the topics I still have difficulty with is being able to accurately understanding the similarities and differences between intelligence and wisdom. For instance Albert Einstein was very intelligent, but was he always wise?
         Recently I came across a very interesting pair of definitions in a book, written by Virginia Burlingame, that I had ordered thorough It is entitled Gerocounseling: Counseling Elder’s and Their Families.
         In the book intelligence “…is generally seen as the ability to combine available information to pursue a specific goal—such as effective utilization of environmental resources.” A look on the Internet suggests that intelligence includes:
  Adaptability to a new environment or to changes in the   current environment
  Capacity for knowledge and the ability to acquire more
  Capacity for reason and abstract thought
          The book goes on to describe wisdom as the ability to combine cognitive and emotional qualities including “…mastery over emotions, experience, introspection, reflection, empathy, deliberation and avoidance of the impulsive, unconcern with trivia and cautiousness.” Another definition is the “…power of judging rightly and following the soundest course of action, based on knowledge, experience, and understanding.  This important because  older people, to successfully age, are expected to acquire wisdom.

         Paul Baltes, an explorer of wisdom and one of the founders of the Max-Plank Institute designed material to help us explore life management problems. One technique is the use of brief vignettes and scenarios.  For example:

“A little, fourteen-year-old girl is pregnant what should she, what should one, consider and do?”
“A fifteen-year-old girl wants to marry soon. What should she, what should one, consider and do?”

According to the Max-Plank Institute wisdom has five components:
1.   Rich factual knowledge (general and specific knowledge about the conditions of life and it’s variations)
2.   Rich procedural knowledge (general and specific knowledge about the conditions of life and its variations)
3.   Life Span Contextualism (knowledge about the contexts of life and their temporal [developmental] relationships
4.   Relativism (knowledge about differences in values, goals, and priorities)

How would you answer the following questions?
What brings happiness?
How have you overcome fear in your life?
When do you do your best work?
What advice would you give for success?
Do you see yourself as a creative person? 
How do you express your creativity?
What do you think the world needs?
What is the best way to resolve conflicts?
What are our main responsibilities as adults?
What are our responsibilities as citizens?
What do you think is society’s main problems?
What makes marriage successful?
What advice would you give parents?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Working After Retirement Option

Those of you who have been following my blog over the past six months know that I am now 71 years old, that I avoided mandatory retirement six years ago but was reduced to teaching two courses per term. I have stayed teaching only two courses although my salary was also cut in half. I have decided to retire at the end of the 2011 Spring Term, which began on January 3rd.
         You will notice on my blog I have placed an advertisement for a Retirement Workshop that I have created and intend to present following my retirement. I have already begun contacting organizations that might be interested in sponsoring the workshop for their employees.
          Ok, so what’s new? Recently I was surfing the Internet when I came upon an article on Post-retirement employment.[i]  It is a brief study of findings extracted from the Canadian General Social Survey. The study reports that 22% of retirees returned to work after they had ceased working. The report is well written and may help you to see things more clearly about your own retirement.  You can read it yourself by using the endnote on this blog posting.
         In the survey, similar to my own experience, some people reported reduced work hours prior to full retirement. This decision is connected with good health, level of education and skills needed to compete with other potential employees. I think my current situation meets these criteria.
         The study also indicates the post-retirement employment is more common among individuals with professional occupations. Persons with management experience and technicians are next most likely to follow this path.  Gender factors indicated different probabilities of returning to paid employment. Men were almost twice a likely as women to find new work following retirement.
         Twenty five percent of persons who retired between 50 and 59 returned to work. Of those returning to work  “…financial considerations was mentioned most frequently but it was cited by considerably less than half by returnees (38%).”
          Interestingly about a quarter of the respondents said they just didn’t like retirement.  Of these the majority reported the need for the challenges that employment provides, their connections with other workers and having a sense of purpose.  As indicated above that doesn’t mean, however, that they went back to work fulltime. They most often chose to work a fewer number of hours.  Within that group most people chose to work less than 30 hours/week.  The number of hours worked by those with higher levels of education was the more diverse
         One more thing, it has been concluded that people currently approaching retirement are in better health than their predecessors. There will be.. “Lower mortality rates overall, and for cardiovascular disease in particular, as well as lower odds of heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis and activity limitation…”
         So if you are reading this from a different country than Canada, perhaps your statistics will be somewhat different. The important thing to remember is that we are all human beings and we can learn from each other.  Happy New Y

[i] Schellenberg, Turotte, and Ram  Sept 2005 Perspectives  Stats Canada- General Social Survey Catalogue no. 75-001-XIE

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Memory and Aging: What Can We Do About It?

     The other day I had a difficult time remembering where I had put my car key.   After finding it, I mentioned to a friend how stressful the search had become before I finally found the key.  She replied that it would have been more of a problem if I had for forgotten what the key was for. We both laughed.
     Research indicates that all forms of memory performance are subject to the effects of aging. Investigators have also found that older persons have stereotyped views memory and aging more often than other age groups.  For instance, a number of times I have heard someone exclaim “ I just had a senior’s moment.”
     Forgetting where and when I put my key is an example of episodic memory, which is very susceptible to aging decline.  Apparently we may begin to lose episodic memories in early adulthood. The process is slow but continuous.
     Sometimes I have to ask my wife for help when I am manipulating systems on my laptop computer.  For me this may be a problem because I still consider myself a novice when it comes to computers and I don’t pay enough attention to detail.
     Another thing I and many other people find difficult is remembering people’s names; although we very seldom forget faces.  For instance I can be watching a movie on TV that was made in the 60’s and recognize all the major faces but I have to ask my wife what their names are. I usually ask for the person’s initials and then go through the alphabet seeking the name.  Sometimes it works and then I try to develop a technique for remembering that particular person’s name. Interestingly my memory for what words mean is not a problem. This appears to be true for most seniors.
     I do sometimes a have memory problem, referred to as tip-of-the-tongue phenomena. What a feeling it is!  The word is there like a baby peering out from beneath a blanket. Every time you look the baby ducks behind the cover.
     I find the best strategy in this situation is to stop trying to remember. Within a minute of two, sometimes more quickly if I really have let go, the name pops up within 30 seconds. 
     Another problem for me is something called “false memory.” Apparently seniors have this experience more frequently than younger people.  As an example, I recently ordered a book, over the Internet.  That was three of four weeks ago.  I was sure that I had ordered two different books.  When the first book arrived last week there were two copies of the same book. I returned one of them and patiently waited for the next book to arrive.  A couple of days later, I stopped at the bookstore and asked if they could trace the book. They looked and looked and found nothing.  So, I’ve come to accept that I didn’t order the book.  It turns out just as well as I have gone through my bookshelves and found a couple of books on the same topic that will do just fine. {Alert  Jan 5th: I just got the book, the memory failure was that I forgot that I ordered the second hand book from a company in the States so it wasn't false memory is was a partial memory failure,  Whew}
     A most frightening process related to aging and memory is Dementia.  But I’m not ready to discuss that yet.  So I’ll present some ways that we can use to strengthen our memories

Now What Can We Do About It
     It has been suggested that we use “brainteasers” like crossword puzzles to help keep our brains active. Three months ago I purchased a book called “Giant Book of Word Seeks”.  It has 562 pages with a different game on easy page.  I’m now on page 220. Each page takes at least a 45 minutes and longer if I’m watching TV while looking for words.  I like this kind of word search game a lot more entertaining than doing crosswords. It requires recognition not recall.
     The next suggestion is that we should have a healthy diet with omega-3 fats and whole grains antioxidants. I have now developed a lunch habit of tuna fish sandwiches with full grain bread toast. I love it.  I have also developed a taste for dry roasted almonds.
     I have not been so good at the next suggestion; old habits die hard. The suggestion is to have five small meals throughout the day. It is suggested that this prevents dips in blood glucose, which is the primary energy source for the brain.  My food life is not quite so organized.
     Next we are encouraged to keep lists.  I don’t do this routinely yet. (Develop routines is the next suggestion!) Mostly make a list before I go grocery shopping. I also do it when I have a list of places to go and people to see.
     We are encouraged to make associations (connect things in your mind), such as using landmarks to help you find places. I use this idea to find my car in a big parking lot. First I look at where the car is related to the building and I have placed five light green tennis balls on the dashboard of our car. They are hard to miss.
        We are also encouraged to keep a detailed calendar. I have done this for years—when I’m teaching, where I’m teaching, what I’m teaching. Course outlines are wonderful
     Put important items, such as your keys, in the same place every time. I’m getting better at this. For instance wherever in the house I take my hearing aids out, I always go to the place where I keep their pouch. And I keep it in the same place.
     Repeat names when you meet new people. This is something I have noticed being used by many sales people. My problem here is remembering to do it.  “Hi Bob. How are you Bob? Bob, where is the closest department store?
     Do things that keep your mind and body busy.  Teaching and working on this blog are intellectually stimulating.  For the body, I like to walk and also during good weather, I ride my bike to the University, which takes about a half hour.