Are the Golden Years a Myth?

Even with careful planning, life in retirement can bring some unintended baggage.

Getting older is definitely not a cakewalk. If there is one thing that is true for every living person on this planet, it is that each of us will die. As of this writing, no one has found an alternative to this fact of life.

It is also a given that as our bodies age, every one of us will be more susceptible to developing one or more of the “three Ds: disease, disability, or dementia. Many individuals who are not even at retirement age have already developed one or more of these conditions. A large number of seniors are affected by the realities of aging. So, are the golden years” a myth, or an attainable reality?

The Dream

For many, the ideal retirement dream is to leave their job, qualify for Social Security, begin retirement plans, tap into savings, move to a warmer climate, and live out the rest of their lives in leisurely activities like sitting by the pool, reading, playing golf, partying with others, playing cards, watching TV or streaming video, traveling, cultivating hobbies, and enjoying their grandchildren. This utopian dream of living out their golden years in a state of contentment and happiness is only true for a segment of the population. For others, the realities of aging will get in the way.

Of those turning age 65 today, 69 percent will eventually need some type of long-term care services, at home, in their community, or in a facility.

Die Too Soon

The Social Security Period Life Table for 2016 (the most recent available) predicts that for men born in the United States, by the year 2016, about 80 percent will still be alive at age 65. In other words, 20 percent will have died. For women, 88 percent will be alive and 12 percent will have died. At age 70, 27 percent of men will have died, 17 percent of women of this age gone. At age 80, only 51 percent of men will be alive and only 64 percent of women are still with us. By age 85, only 35 percent of men are alive, with 49 percent of women still living.

In spite of the optimism created by technology, and advances in medicine and pharmaceuticals, mortality is still imminent.

The message here is that some of those who are planning for a joyous retirement, that “maybe” time between unemployment and death, may not even make it, or may die with only a few years of enjoying the so-called golden years.

Poor Health

Poor health is a major reason why many older Americans do not experience the retirement dream. Chronic disease often prevents people from participating in any meaningful activities or even leaving their homes. According to the National Council on Aging, approximately 80 percent of older adults have at least one chronic disease, and 77 percent have at least two.

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Inadequate Income and Lack of Savings

According to the Government Accountability Office, (an investigative arm of Congress), more than half of Americans will have to rely solely on Social Security benefits at some point during their lifetime. The average Social Security retirement benefit in June 2019 was about $1,470 a month, or about $17,640 a year. This means Social Security for many recipients is much less (say around $12,000 a year because they take it at an earlier age). The Social Security incomes for a couple might be enough to maintain an adequate lifestyle in retirement, but for single individuals or widows, it is likely not enough to provide more than a meager existence.

The Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies reports that the median retirement savings for Americans in their 60s is $172,000. This is generally far too little money to support a successful retirement. (Half of all Americans are above this level and half are below.) The retirement dream of traveling to exotic places, living in expensive retirement communities, and golfing for the remainder of their lives is exactly that: a dream.

Loss of Independence

Nearly 40 percent of people age 65 and older have at least one disability, according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey that covered the period 2008 to 2012. Of those 15.7 million people, two-thirds said they had difficulty walking or climbing stairs. Difficulty with independent living, such as visiting a doctor’s office or shopping, was the second-most cited disability, followed by serious difficulty in hearing, cognitive difficulty, difficulty bathing or dressing, and serious difficulty seeing. Of those turning 65 today, 69 percent will eventually need some type of long-term care services, at home, in their community, or in a facility. Most people don’t have a plan for that either; they become dependent on others.

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LongTerm Care

It isn’t just that long-term care can eat up retirement savings and reduce surviving spouses to poverty, it can be detrimental to the family as well. The stress of caregiving over a long period of time leads to depression, development of diseases, and even the early death of the caregiver. Most Americans simply aren’t prepared for the financial obligations associated with aging, and this will force governments, communities, and families to adapt to solve this problem.

What to Do?

The concepts of our retirement golden years and planning for longevity are evolving, as we witness the massive changes occurring with technology and society. Planning for retirement, in whatever fashion you see that concept, and providing for the costs associated with extended healthcare, are discussions and planning you should begin incorporating now.

Start today with conversations and planning with the people you care most about. You have one life to live, so make the best of it!

*Excerpts from the National Care Planning Council