This is how to make the best of your retirement

The advertising industry loves to suggest that retirement is one holiday after another but for many people, it takes time to get used to endless time and a limited budget. Margaret Jennings talks to the experts about how to approach life after work 

DROWNING their sorrows in a bottle , or embracing life to the full; home alone behind the four walls, or actively engaged in local communities — the picture of the modern Irish retiree is a mixed one, depending on who’s talking.

What’s clear is that each individual’s unique response to the challenge of this major transition — from the full busy schedule of a working life, to the gaping formlessness of ‘what happens next’ — can make or break them.

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Eamonn Timmons, Chief Executive of Age Action says difficulties settling into retirement can occur amongst people who ‘were what they did’ and suffer when this identity is stripped away. He also said that in general, the anecdotal phenomenon of dying shortly after retirement is more related to the person’s older age profile than unhappiness at leaving the workplace.

According to Dr Colin O’Gara, the head of addiction services at St John of God hospital, many retirees end up in a chronic state at his door, either from alcohol addiction or pill abuse.

“People are continuously saying ‘it was in and around my retirement’ when their problems escalated. And with retirees expecting to live a lot longer after work they are looking down the barrel of that, and don’t know how to cope,” he says.

However the prognosis for retirees is positive: “They have a lifetime of good habits and structures to call on. It’s a case of igniting those — once they get built back up after anxiety and depression — because they have that insight.” Addiction is not an issue that has yet become apparent to staff at the Retirement Planning Council of Ireland, who see 4-5,000 pre-retirement employees from the private and public sector each year, says RPC consultant Declan Lawlor.

A survey carried out last year by the RPC revealed that more than half of those approaching retirement did not feel ready for it, prior to taking a course.

For people planning to retire, or those unhappy in the transition, here are some pointers:

FINANCES

In 1970 when people retired they could expect to live for 12 years afterwards; now it’s 20. Coping financially for those years is usually people’s top concern, yet most only have “a vague notion” of their situation, says Declan Lawlor. Talk to your employer regarding benefits, he advises and take a pre-retirement course at least a year in advance.

“Retirees receive a number of financial allowances and benefits and it is important to ensure you are getting the supports to which you are entitled,” says Justin Moran, head of advocacy and communications at Age Action (information: 01-4756989).

HAVE A PURPOSE

“What people want in retirement is often what they wanted at other times in their lives; to live with some type of purpose and to feel a sense of control over their environment and their destiny,” says Michael Foley head of evaluation and public affairs at Age & Opportunity.

The organisation has many activities covering physical and sport, arts and culture, and education. www.ageandopportunity.ie 

DIET AND EXERCISE

You’ve heard it all: eating well and staying physically active are crucial. Join others, for support. Stretch those limbs and step it out at www.getirelandactive.ie Educate yourself about eating well for a healthy brain and body. Check out the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute indi.ie and www.safefood.eu

GET OUT

“Loneliness is a serious health issue and can be as damaging to health than smoking or obesity in later life,” says ALONE chief executive officer, Sean Moynihan. “Many of the older people we support would have worked all their lives, but after retirement these relationships fell away. We are currently working with over 50 Befriending Services where we visit vulnerable and isolated people weekly. Referrals have tripled in the past two years.” Ring 01-6791032 for details of the nearest Befriending Service to get support, or to volunteer.

By joining local organisations, pursuing hobbies, volunteering, offering your skills, or taking up new ones, you also increase your chances of a healthy older age, according to research. Active Retirement Ireland has over 400 branches (www.activeirl.ie).

The 2011 CSO figures show the number of retired people rose by 21% to 457,394 in the five years previous.

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HITTING THE RIGHT BALANCE

Former civil servant, Tony McCarthy found it shattering when he was younger, to watch colleagues pass on a year or two after they retired.

“It’s a big shock to the system — you’re busy, you’re systemised and suddenly you have a lot of free time. The first thing you do is miss your colleagues,” he says.

His experience was different however.

“I didn’t find it difficult at all — I had spent many years involved in volunteering.”

Nine years on from leaving his 41-year career with the Revenue Commission, his main advice is to get involved with community organisations which he and his wife Margaret, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, get huge pleasure from.

“Neither disability nor age should be a barrier,” he says.

There are loads of activities, says the 69-year-old father of two.

“As a civil servant I was used to formulating words, so now I do creative writing. I can’t draw a straight line, but I still get lost in the world of my art class and I am a Go For Life PAL (Physical Activity Leader) with Age & Opportunity so I get my exercise.”

He and Margaret, 68, belong to the Dun Laoghaire branch of the Active Retirement Association – which is a social as well as learning outlet.

Retirees should look out for each other and bring the shyer people to events, he says. “Otherwise people stay in their homes and become as narrow as the four walls around them. Or men end up in the pub because it’s a social grouping. But we can become robotic if we don’t keep ourselves active and alert.”

Tips on how have a great retirement:

Manage your budget: Face the music — figure out what you will be earning and any State benefits you are entitled to, well before you retire, if possible. Check out websites like www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk for ideas on cutting your cloth to measure.

Address your changing lifestyle: Every day becomes Saturday and Sunday, but you can’t lie in bed for seven days a week. We all need routine, advises Declan Lawlor of the Retirement Planning Council of Ireland. Look at having balance in your day.

Stay challenged: Your brain responds well when you do new things. Check out www.hellobrain.eu for fun ways to keep your synapses sparking. Join a club and take up a hobby, sport or simply meet new people. Your brain likes that also!

Eat well: Post retirement is a chance to take control of your diet. Eat fresh colourful food, less sugar, salt and fat, so that you have more energy to enjoy the decades ahead.Enjoy a little of what you fancy. Check out the Food Safety Authority of Ireland www.fsai.ie

Have fun: By staying connected, looking after you health and budgeting, it’s easier to stay positive in your retirement.

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