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Plan ahead for a fulfilling retirement

August 30, 2013

Transitioning into retirement can be a jarring experience for many adults. While they may look forward to the days when they no longer have to head into work, that loss of structure and meaning can be difficult for some seniors. In fact, figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that an estimated 20 percent of adults 55 and older have some type of mental health concern - typically depression or anxiety. Staying happy during retirement may be challenging, but with smart planning and a commitment to active living, it can be done, according to a recent report from Northwestern University.

A new identity
Many people identify closely with their jobs. After all, it was what provided a sense of accomplishment and meaning. However, with that gone, it's important for seniors to find a new sense of purpose once they leave the workforce. Experts say that it's important for adults approaching retirement, or those who have already entered it, to plan for how they'll form an identity. Whether it's volunteering, continuing education or committing to a new hobby, having something to dedicate one's time to is essential.

"People take time to plan out their finances, but it's really important to think about emotions," Lisa Campbell, a clinical psychologist, told Northwestern. "Oftentimes people have a lot of expectations about retirement that aren't realistic or that their expectations don't match what's happening. You have to figure out what to do with your time and energy."

Challenge yourself
It's important to add some mentally and intellectually stimulating activity to your senior living repertoire, not just because it can help you carve out a new identity but also because it is an important hallmark of healthy aging. A study released earlier this year found that mental activity, whether in the form of reading the newspaper each morning or returning to the classroom, can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Specifically, researchers found older adults who participated in more mentally stimulating activities were about 47 percent less likely than others to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Social engagement
Staying socially active is almost as important as the mental component, and retirement communities have played an increasingly critical role in this process. Many such options give seniors the chance to spend time with similarly minded residents while also offering ample opportunity to take classes, pursue hobbies and join clubs.