Emotional Health

The Benefits of Change: Retiring, Relocating or Reinventing Yourself

Getting an aging relative to move out of a beloved home can be a serious challenge.  Many of us have been faced with a situation in which a parent is clearly in need of professional care, like assisted living, but fights the rest of the family if they try to intervene. Often there is a long, dangerous period in which there is a standoff—the family knows that the parent needs more, and nervously negotiates while the situation deteriorates. Sometimes an event, like a serious fall, will bring about the desired change, shocking the resistant parent into accepting the new reality.

Though relatives often feel extremely guilty about it, moving a parent into assisted living can often be a positive change. No longer physically or emotionally isolated, some older people thrive in these environments and admit they wished they’d done it sooner.

These issues are increasingly relevant as the  Baby Boomer generation moves into retirement age. Many of us are at a stage where we are still healthy and looking at how to maximize the years we have left. A number of people with long careers behind them are not retiring but “reinventing” themselves—finding second careers or new lifestyles that are quite different from their first. As more us are reaching our mid- and late 60s in robust good health, we find we are not ready for the slower pace that used to be one of retirement’s main benefits. With high earning potential no longer being the burden that used to affect our earlier job choices, we are freer to explore creative, unusual, and even quirky occupations.

This can be a good idea for many reasons. Not only do people thrive psychologically when they are using their skills and talents, they tend to be physically healthier as well. And research shows that learning new skills can help stave of mental deterioration and sometimes even build up new brain structures. According to psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, learning challenging activities strengthens entire networks by increasing communication between different areas in the brain.

Jane Brody, the longtime health writer for The New York Times who is widowed and in her 70s, writes:

“Although I have been like a horse with blinders, starting at 23 as a science and health writer and never straying from my chosen path for 52 years, I have great admiration for the courage, imagination and determination of people … who reinvent themselves by believing that you never know what you can do until you try.”

Now in semi-retirement, she has opted to stay with her job but re-invent herself by learning Spanish, taking adventurous trips, and adopting a puppy that she has trained to be a therapy dog. She writes about people, like a doctor who gave up his practice, increasingly bedeviled by managed care, to become a grass-fed beef farmer upstate, and a woman who transitioned from social worker to massage therapist.

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