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Adapting to health challenges after retirement

           Mature woman stretching outdoors.

To maintain control of how you live, think about health issues before they occur

As a physician, you know first-hand how people’s health changes as they get older, whether it’s age-related diseases or a generalized decline in physical abilities. While you know this objectively, it may be hard to imagine these changes affecting you one day. But ignoring that reality could pose a problem for your retirement plan. After all, health and mobility underlie most other retirement goals, such as travel, choice of home, sports and a broad range of other activities.

The following health issues, which tend to become more evident with age, can have important lifestyle impacts, especially at the later stages of retirement:

  • Vision and concentration issues can undermine your ability to drive.
  • Joint deterioration can compromise your ability to stay active or climb stairs.
  • Hearing loss can interfere with your relationships and lead to isolation.
  • Foot issues can limit your mobility.
  • Cognitive deterioration can make it difficult to interact socially.

Take a proactive approach

Dr. Amy D’Aprix, a gerontologist and expert on life transitions based in Toronto, explains that you can take the initiative to mitigate negative health changes in different ways.

“One of the things you can do is recognize the importance of exercise, diet and good health habits,” she says. “You can also be proactive in other health areas such as addressing hearing loss, for example. If you wait too long to get hearing aids, the success rate may not be as high, because of issues with the brain-ear connection.”

Beyond being proactive about your health, you also want to think ahead about how health changes will affect the way you live.

“It’s not so much about reducing negative health effects. It’s also about anticipating how you will deal with them,” says Dr. Amy, as she prefers to be called. “Ask yourself: ‘If there were a shift in my health or mobility, would it make sense to be in this house?’ ” she says. “If the answer is no—which it probably is going to be at some point—what’s your Plan B? What are you going to do differently?

“You don’t have to implement your Plan B until the appropriate time, but you need to have a Plan B.”

Develop a realistic plan

Start with the question of your home, Dr. Amy says, and then consider how health changes will impact other aspects of your retirement. This way, you can come up with a plan for the future.

Most people have given this no thought. They say they’ll worry about it when it happens or leave it to their kids to figure out. But if you want to have choice, control and independence throughout your life, you need to think about these things.

Consider reduced mobility

Health changes may also interfere with travel plans.

“People think they’re going to travel forever,” Dr. Amy says. “That may become unrealistic, so consider how you would travel differently if you had a mobility or health issue. Maybe instead of just you and your spouse going on trips, you might travel as part of a group where everything is taken care of. That’s why cruises are so popular with people with disabilities. They don’t have to do a lot.”

Even at home, what if you can no longer drive?

“People don’t consider how so many elements of their retirement plans are dependent on transportation,” Dr. Amy says. Where you live, the activities you do, and your social life can all rely on whether you can get around.

“You may get help at home, but if you can’t drive, now you’re isolated and can’t access the things you love to do,” she points out. The problem is compounded if your friends are more or less your age and have similar mobility issues.

The key: Think ahead

Dr. Amy stresses that the adaptation strategies she recommends are not just about trying to resolve or reduce the underlying health problems. They’re about anticipating and planning for lifestyle changes as well. That’s what keeps you in control of your life.

“Some people say, ‘I’ll bring in home care,’ ” she adds. “Maybe. But most of us don’t want the person coming in twice a day to help to be the only person we see. You might end up feeling isolated. So you really need to think: ‘If this doesn’t make sense, what would?’ ”