Growing old is not easy, as the saying goes. It’s probably hard for most of us to imagine what life will be like after retirement. We may have dreams of a life of leisure, freedom from stress, plenty of time on our hands to pursue our hobbies and interests, or travel.
But retirement may not mean exactly that, to those already living it.
In fact, the reality is that life is even more challenging now than it was when they were working.
Let’s look at some of the top challenges facing today’s retirees.
The primary challenge has got to be health. As the saying goes, health is wealth. Only when a person no longer has his or her health, do they realize what has been lost. By the time a person reaches retirement age, they would usually already have encountered some health issues and problems. The fortunate few are generally in good health with a few minor problem areas. But the less fortunate have to deal with the realities of chronic health complaints or even life-threatening illnesses.
Another challenge is accommodation. For those retirees who have managed, in the course of their working life, to purchase and own a property outright, they are spared this worry at least initially. But what about those who still need to make monthly loan repayments, or have never managed to purchase their own home?
After retirement, disposal income decreases and earning capacity decreases. Some retirees find that they cannot afford to live at their current level and need to downsize their lifestyle. Parents may need to move in with their children. Depending on the individual situation, this can place pressure on the family structure and result in strained relationships, stress and unhappiness for both generations.
Unless the retiree has prudently managed his or her finances while still in employment, the issue of money will pose an immediate challenge upon retirement. It will not be easy to adjust financially to no longer having a fixed or reasonably stable income every month. Lump sum payments in the form of EPF payouts upon the attainment of the age of 55, can sometimes do more harm than good as people unused to managing their finances may spend more than they should initially, resulting in premature depletion of funds.
Further, even the most financially-savvy individual cannot accurately predict how long he or she will live, or what state of health he or she will be in say 10, or 20 years down the road. This makes budgeting for the future, extremely challenging.
Those who are still in the workforce tend to long for retirement as they see it as utopia, and endless period of leisurely bliss. But they rarely stop to ponder the question as to what they will do to stay focused and connected with the world, after they stop working. It may seem surprising, but amongst the top challenges facing today’s retirees are feelings of isolation and lack of purpose, loss of identity and the feeling that they are “no longer of use to society”.
Imagine, a high-powered executive or government official, used to a fast-paced life in which his every decision was acted upon by legions of staff, suddenly upon retirement finding himself alone in a house all day, with nowhere to be, nothing to manage and no one interested in hearing what he has to say. From leading a super-busy life, to having endless empty hours in a day. The sudden transition can negatively impact the emotional well-being of the retiree, even causing depression in some cases.
As retirees age, caring for them becomes more challenging for their children and caregivers. Loss of physical mobility and mental acuity can gradually result in the retiree needing full-time care. Often by this time, the retirees can no longer live on their own as they require assistance and support to undertake even the simplest activities.
The children of these retirees, usually young working adults with young children of their own, end up taking on the responsibilities themselves. Malaysia does not yet have reasonably-priced retirement villages. And while there are such things as old folks’ homes, as a general rule, Asian children are filial and would not send their aged parents to an old folks home unless there was absolutely no other choice.
So, the burden is absorbed by the children who usually rely on foreign maids to take care of their retired parents while they work full time. This arrangement is fraught with challenges as maids often run away and it is very difficult to find replacements. Private nurses are available but at a very high price as they charge by the hour. So, one of the key challenges facing retirees today is the issue of who will care for them when they are no longer able to care for themselves.
All in all, there are a great many issues facing today’s retirees. The presence of a loving and supporting family can help them to cope with the challenges better. It’s up to us as the younger generation, to expend the resources required to care for them, as they cared for us and sacrificed for us when we were children.