“Coping with life in retirement” or
“Life begins at 90!”
By Dr Mike Lowis Visiting fellow, Occupational Sciences
“Coping with life in retirement” 2
Why the interest? Pensioners comprised 18.7% of the population in 2007, and this is expected to rise to 19.4% by 2010. People can normally expect many years of retirement. Important to be able to cope with adversity and maintain a meaningful level of life satisfaction. Aldwin & Gilmer (2004) coined the term “optimal ageing”.
“Coping with life in retirement” 3
My research started in 1986, inspired by the question “why do some older adults remain cheerful (cup half full) whilst others are miserable and complaining (cup half empty)?” The research continued at TUON and is on-going. Outlines of five studies will be presented.
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Erikson’s stage 8 Erikson’s (1963) 8th stage of psycho-social development: “ego integrity versus despair” occurs at 65+. We found that a scale based on Erikson’s descriptions of ego integrity correlated with life satisfaction in general, and also with each of: daily activities, meaning in life, life goals, positive mood, self-concept, health, financial status, social contacts, and internal locus of control (accepts responsibility for life). This confirms validity of the ego integrity theory. (Lowis & Raubenheimer, 1997 – publication was delayed).
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Is there an Erikson 9 stage? Erikson may have been considering Stage 9 before his death (Erikson, 1998, and wife Joan).“Gero-transcendence” occurs only in extreme old age, and signifies a shift from a materialistic and rational view of life to a more transcendent one. We administered Stage 8 and Stage 9 questionnaires to two groups: aged 60, and aged 80/90. Stage 8 scores were similar for both groups, but Stage 9 scores were significantly higher with those aged 80/90s. Thus, development continues into old age, but not to be confused with “disengagement”. (Brown & Lowis, 2003).
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Religion as a coping mechanism Previous researchers (e.g. Koenig, 2001) stated that older people use religion/spirituality to help them cope. We surveyed recent residents of care homes to see how they coped with the transition. The strongest correlation with life satisfaction was a faith in nature and humanity, with only an indirect link with religious beliefs and none with participation in religious activities. Religious coping might occur more with the very frail or ill. Opportunities for religious expression in care homes might be limited. (Lowis, Edwards, Roe, Jewell, Jackson & Tidmarsh, 2005).
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Other coping mechanisms We broadened the scope and surveyed community dwellers on life satisfaction and the impact of self-rated health, locus of control, pre-retirement job, dwelling, and the previous nature/humanity and coping religion variables. The two main predictors were health and internal locus of control, with the latter being itself predicted by high scores on nature/humanity but low scores on coping religion. We also found a novel link with seniority of previous occupation and health (Lowis, Edwards & Burton, in press 2009).
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A further look at pre-retirement occupation In a new survey, we probed more deeply into pre-retirement occupation. Preliminary findings indicate a link between stress of retirement, current adjustment to it, health, and life satisfaction. The main job stressors were managing subordinates, mental activity, and taking decisions. Engaging in voluntary work after retirement is beneficial, but not part-time (paid) work. Satisfaction with dwelling also contributes to a satisfying retirement. Can interventions help alleviate the negative impact of the job? (Lowis, Edwards & Singlehurst, in progress).
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Conclusions and interventions What have we learned, and what can be done to enhance the chances of a long and happy retirement? 7.1 Life does not stagnate, no matter how long we live: there are new challenges to face in gero-transcendence. Intervention: Be sensitive to what may seem like disengagement by the very old – new challenges may be being explored through introspection.
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7.2 Religious coping may seem indirect or absent, but others have shown that people do put their trust in God to help them cope, especially when frail or in poor health. Intervention: Be sensitive to older adults’ religious and spiritual needs, and provide opportunities to express them.
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7.3: Accepting responsibility for one’s life, and being satisfied with one’s health, finances, activity, and social contacts are important, regardless of objective assessment. Intervention: Encourage the “cup half full” attitude, despite inevitable changes and consequences of ageing; offer help to overcome difficulties where this is practicable.
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7.4: Having a satisfying job, and a supportive employer to avoid the damaging effects of stress; being able to retire without it being a traumatic event, are all important. Intervention: Adequate retirement preparation before the last day, and retirement enrichment programs after this; include psychological preparation and stress minimisation in addition to practical aspects such as finances, health, etc.
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• “Do not despair about growing older, because not everyone is granted the privilege” (Filipino proverb)