The Challenge of Living to a Ripe Old Age

Beth Misak |

By Beth Misak
May 2018

This is the third in a series of conversations we recently started about new approaches to modern retirement. The study entitled “8000 Days of Retirement”1 proposes that today’s retirement can be a dynamic period lasting 20 years or more. For those who reach their 80s, that’s one-quarter of their lives. And there are shifts throughout this span of retirement, grouped into four phases.

The four phases identified by MIT AgeLab are: the Honeymoon Phase, the Big Decision Phase, the Navigating Longevity Phase, and the Solo Journey Phase.

This month we will focus on the third phase, known as the Navigating Longevity phase.

Most of us wish to live long, full lives. The reality is, the longer we live, the more likely it is we will experience increasing health challenges. The more we know about the possible bends in the road, the better prepared we will be to face them.

In the third retirement phase, what once were mere aches and pains may become more pronounced. Mobility might change. Chronic conditions can emerge. Medical appointments and medication management may demand more of our time.

It’s estimated that 92 percent of older adults are managing at least one chronic condition and 77 percent are managing the complexities of two or more chronic conditions2. And chronic conditions can make handling other health issues more difficult. For example, increased age often leads to juggling more medications. Three out of four adults over the age of 50 take one or more prescription medications on a regular basis. Of those 65 and older, 86 percent take prescription drugs, with 53 percent taking four or more on a regular basis3.

This phase of retirement also highlights the growing importance of establishing legal contingencies. Trusted family members and professionals should be assigned as health care proxies or given power of attorney, for example. It’s best to put these plans in place while cognitive and physical functions are adequate and desires can be communicated clearly.

Another consideration is the shifting social scene. Due to changes in health, whether individually or as a couple, social activities may be reduced. Friends and peers may also be less available to socialize.

Finally, housing needs may grow more complicated. From physical alterations such as installing hand rails, to part-time assistance from a family member or professional caregiver, household adjustments can be expected during the “navigating longevity” phase. It is not uncommon to undergo another move entirely at this stage. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 70% of people turning 65 will need some form of long-term care during their lives4. That care can range from around-the-clock medical and personal assistance to independent living with a safety net.

Knowledge is not only power, it can provide greater peace of mind. Having advance awareness of the challenges of longevity is the first step toward preparing physically, emotionally, and financially for this third phase of retirement. Those who maintain a strong community of family and friends will be even more empowered for the journey ahead.

1Hartford Funds and MIT AgeLab
2National Council on Aging, “Healthy Aging Facts,” 2014. Most recent data available used.
3AARP, “Medication, “Prescription Drugs Prices Worry Americans,” 4/19/16
4How to discuss long-term-care options with clients, Journal of Accountancy, 3/1/17 

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