Living Longer The Paradox of Health and Retirement

Marital relationships

By Pamela D. Wilson,  CSA, MS, BS/BA, CG

Few people I know openly talk about waiting for the grim reaper to show up at the door. Conversely the subject is daily conversation for many of my clients who are older, have several chronic health conditions and are just plain tired of living, rather existing as they would say. Individuals over 100 years of age in the U.S. are increasing and currently number about 84,000.

Many of these individuals never planned to live this long or to survive a spouse. Nor did the social security system expect to provide for them for another 35-40 years after retirement  Statistics show that we are simply living longer.  And while the main concern is funding our own retirement, many adult children are just now considering the unexpected need to support aging parents and siblings. Many couples approaching retirement age look forward to traveling, enjoying grandchildren and engaging in hobbies.  True retirement is changing.  An article in the Chicago Tribune reports that 25% of adults worry about having to support their siblings and the same adults, 40%, worry about having to support their parents.1

Health and RetirementExtended life expectancy supports the argument for extending retirement age to or beyond age 70 considering that most of us will live to about 78. This means that 10% of life would be spent in retirement versus 25% if retirement occurs at 64 and we live to 85. Extending employment might help us remain more active and socially engaged.  I have friends in their late fifties who retired early. They are now questioning their decision as the value of their pension has dropped significantly and the standard of living they expected has virtually disappeared.  Employment may again be on their horizon.

Scientists are working to extend healthy middle age from 60 to 80.  Imagine how this shift in retirement age would solve the social security and pension disaster we are currently facing.  It would also make sure that individuals facing retirement would be able to enjoy a healthier older age as couples or singles.

Aubrey de Grey, a U.K. biogerontologist, is researching the cycle of metabolism that produces cell damage. “The hope of successful treatment dwindles as the patient ages.  Geriatrics is a short term strategy slowing down the rate at which damage converts into disease.”2  His strategy instead is to limit the damage to cells, indefinitely postponing the corresponding disease.

This leads to two questions.  Would you rather retire at age 70 if you were guaranteed to live longer and be healthier or retire at 60 less healthy and die earlier? At present, much of this depends on the lifestyle we’ve lived thus far and in part on genetics. It also depends in part on whether we are married and have a partner to care for us.  With research and preventative care perhaps there is hope for us or at least for younger generations to live longer and healthier.


1) The Chicago Tribune, Your Money Section, Article 08/24/08.

2) Aubrey De Grey,

©2012, 2010, 2013 Pamela D. Wilson, All rights reserved.  

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