Second Wind in Retirement

June 11, 2014

I recently finished reading Second Wind by Dr. Bill Thomas, a geriatrician (a medical doctor specializing in aging). Dr. Thomas worked clinically with older patients for a number of years and became convinced that better avenues should be available to enable more meaningful lives for people as they age. Thus he co-created the Eden Alternative and The Green House Project as alternatives in eldercare.

In Second Wind (subtitled “Navigating the Passage to a Slower, Deeper and More Connected Life”) Dr. Thomas posits a third stage of life called Elderhood, which chronologically and developmentally follows childhood and adulthood. Many sociologists, gerontologists, philosophers and others have reflected on the roles of elders in human society. Dr. Thomas makes a sharper distinction than most others by suggesting the elderhood needed today is pointedly different than adulthood and in fact requires a personal separation from adulthood in order to achieve its fulfillment.

While Second Wind references other cultures, geographical and historical, and their attitudes toward and treatment of elders, the book’s focus is on America and Baby Boomers.

Dr. Thomas takes the reader back fifty years and once there divides the boomer population into Squares, Activists and Hippies. Squares were the generally well-behaved traditionalists who inherited their values from their parents and grandparents. They worked hard, took responsibility and knew accomplished adulthood was their destiny.  Activists concurred that adulthood was inevitable but wanted to shake things up in areas like civil rights, feminism, environmentalism, social justice.  Hippies were the counterculturalists who tried to reject growing up and advancement into adulthood.

Squares were the dominant cohort. They won the culture wars and subsumed much of the Activists’ fervor. The Hippies were crushed.

The Squares victory led to what Dr. Thomas refers to as the “cult of adulthood” in which a person’s value is determined by his or her earning capability, productivity and effectiveness. Youthful vibrancy was highly valued and remains so today as contemporary adults pass their adult values on to their children.

As he examines aging boomers, Dr. Thomas again divides them into three groups. Denialists refuse to accept aging as inevitable and seek to remain forever young through diet, exercise, chemistry, surgery, transplants or whatever it takes. Realists understand and accept that age-related decline is inevitable and will take common sense steps to mitigate, moderate, delay and compensate for it. Enthusiasts not only understand and accept aging, they embrace it. In Dr. Thomas’s view, the Enthusiasts seek to outgrow adulthood and (as his book’s sub-title suggests) navigate to a slower, deeper, more connected life: Elderhood.

Dr. Thomas also developed a Second Wind Tour which visited 25 cities. I had the opportunity to be present at the Tour’s Hartford, Connecticut performance. This was not your typical book promotion event (although there were books for sale). This was more of an anti-ageism, slow down, reflect, connect, see the possibilities experience. There was music, singing and dancing. There was a showing of the Alive Inside film which explores the connections between music, identity and memory. It was a free four hour testament to the fact that Dr. Thomas wants to make a difference in people’s lives.

The Second Wind book does not provide a formula for dealing with aging, ageism or even becoming an Elder. It does however provide a well-constructed historical perspective on how we came to be where we are with respect to societal views on aging, and gives the reader (of any age) a lot to think about with respect to moving forward.

R. Kevin Price

© 2008-2014 R.K. Price


Learning a New Language in Retirement using Duolingo

January 30, 2014

I am frequently asked about what activities I recommend for intellectual stimulation in retirement. My response of course could (and did) take up an entire book, but one of my favorite recommended activities is learning a new language. I did a post on this a while back which can be found here which explains why I believe this is a good activity for intellectual and many other reasons.

I have chosen to study Italian. It is a melodious language, pleasant to the ear and tongue; my four years of high school Latin provide a foundation; I enjoy visiting Italy and consuming Italian food and beverages.

I have taken community-based courses, used DVD programs (including Rosetta Stone, which is excellent in my view, but not inexpensive), CDs, textbooks and dual-language short stories.  I also translate Italian news from newspapers and the web and watch Italian movies.  I also get to practice during my occasional visits to Italy.

I have been using a new (to me at least) program the last several months called Duolingo which is available at Duolingo has many of Rosetta Stone’s fine characteristics such as starting simple and  then adding well-designed building blocks, but lacks Rosetta Stone’s contextual photos which do help with comprehension and retention. One Duolingo characteristic that Rosetta Stone does not have is the ability to easily ask questions of, and discuss grammar/usage with, your fellow students and program moderators. If you choose to, you can even answer questions for less advanced students. You feel like you are learning in a community environment.

Best of all it is completely FREE!

If you are interesting in learning another language, I suggest you check it out. In addition to Italian, there are German, French, Spanish and Portuguese modules. Other modules are under development.

R. Kevin Price

© 2008-2014 R.K. Price

Financial Reviews and Planning in Retirement

December 26, 2013

Financial planning for retirement at times seemed like a simple (in theory) exercise in accumulating assets, determining the appropriate investment allocation for those assets given the expected retirement ages for me and my wife and managing down debt over time.

Once in retirement, I am now living the plan and it is important, I think, to pause from time to time and review how well the plan is working and what, if any, changes are called for. A review might be occasioned by an event (a death, change in health status, market decline), changed expectations (life expectancy, inflation outlook, anticipated behavior of politicians) or simply the passage of time from the last substantive review.

Before retiring, I took the financial plan I had constructed and reviewed it with a fee-for-service financial planner. He concluded it was a conservative, reasonable approach and I went forward with it. I was then, and remain, a fan of the investment approach described in John C. Bogle’s Common Sense on Mutual Funds.

Since retiring I have reviewed the plan on my own every couple of years and have not made any significant changes. This year, since I am a bit more than ten years into retirement, I decided to do a more thorough review and to have a professional planner take a look at it also. I devoted about ten-twelve hours to the review and looked at the plan from a variety of perspectives which I then reviewed with the professional. He generally endorsed it and gave me a few additional options to consider for the future. All time well spent.

While doing the review I found several tools to be quite helpful:

The T. Rowe Price Social Security Benefits Evaluator can help you determine your expected benefits and the optimal time and form for taking those benefits. You can find it here.

Wade Pfau is a Professor of Retirement Income at The American College. He publishes a blog called Wade Pfau’s Retirement Researcher Blog in which he discusses assert allocation, retirement fund withdrawal rates, annuities, bond ladder building among other topics. It is found here.

W. Van Harlow is Director of Research at the Putnam Institute and has done some interesting work on managing downside risk in asset allocation. You can find his paper here.

Nobel laureate William Sharpe has a helpful blog on Retirement Income Scenarios. It is found here.

Happy Planning!

R. Kevin Price

© 2008-2013 R.K. Price

Special for Mother’s Day

May 8, 2013

Special for Mother’s Day: In celebration of motherhood, the Kindle edition of  The Successful Retirement Guide will be available on Amazon for only 99 cents throughout Mother’s Day week-end (and you don’t have to be a mother to get this great price)!

Close Encounter with a Namibian Rhino

April 24, 2013

It was our penultimate day in the country and we were out for a morning drive. We were moving at a leisurely pace in our open Range Rover along a straight and narrow forested road, admiring the abundant bird life, when all of a sudden there was a great crashing noise to the left. I turned to see an adult Black Rhino charging full tilt out of the forest and right at us (seemingly right at me since I was on the left side of the vehicle)! It slammed to a halt about 10 feet away, glared at us, lowered and shook its head, made a huge snort and then…

One of the great enjoyments of my retirement is having the opportunity to travel to other countries and learn about their history, culture, geography, art, architecture, food, beverages, languages, government, social customs and the like.

Recently, my wife and I, along with some friends old and new, were able to visit one of the youngest countries in the world: Namibia. It is located on the southwest coast of Africa, north of South Africa, south of Angola and west of Zambia and Botswana. In size, it is twice the land mass of California but only has a population a bit over 2 million making it one of the least densely populated nations in the world. Its official language is English although about 60% of the population speaks Afrikaans and 30% speak German. There are also a number of tribal languages and many Namibians are multilingual. It has a democratic government and gained its independence from South Africa in 1990. The most important sectors of its economy are mining, fishing, agriculture and tourism.

Namibia is a very dry country. It gets little rain and has almost no surface water. It is home to two of the world’s great deserts: the Namib along almost its entire coastline in the west, and the Kalahari which makes up most of the eastern part of the country. The coast is called the “skeleton coast” due the large number of bleached whale and seal bones along the shore from when they were aggressively hunted, as well as for the large number of shipwrecks that have occurred there since the Portuguese began seeking a way around Africa to get to India and the Spice Islands.

The original people of Namibia were the nomadic San who were gradually replaced by the tribal Khoi-Khoi who were herders. Both the San and Khoi-Khoi were supplanted by the Bantu beginning about 2,400 years ago. In the late 19th century Germany, looking for land in which to expand, annexed Nambia and began taking over the best land for farming, driving the native population into the desert in the process. In 1904, a rebellion by the Herero people was brutally smashed with over 60,000 of them being killed. Following WWI, South Africa was given a mandate by the League of Nations to rule the Namibian territory, but the treatment of the native Namibians was not much better than under the Germans. The United Nations eventually voted to end South Africa’s mandate and, after much regional strife, Nambia finally became independent in 1990.

The capital of Namibia, Windhoek, reflects its heritage as a Germany colony both in architecture and cuisine (beer and sausage). The 500 seat church pictured below – Christuskirche – was built in part to symbolize triumph over the native culture:

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The Sossusvlei region of the Namib desert has the world’s tallest sand dunes, some of them towering 1,000 feet above the desert floor. They are red-orange due a high level of iron oxide. They are best seen early in the morning when early light plays against the sand. If you are feeling strong you can climb them:

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From Swakopmund on the coast it is easy to visit the Skeleton Coast and see shipwrecks and wildlife:

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After a day on the water it can be fun to visit a local tavern for some beer, fried caterpillars and chat with the locals:

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In Damaraland we learned how to track elephants (in part, by analyzing their dung). We were successful in finding several herds of “desert-adapted” elephants, which have smaller bodies and longer legs than the savannah/forest African elephants, and can go for several days without water:

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Our campsite in Damaraland was reminiscent of the Grand Canyon:

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In Twyfelontain we saw 2,500 year old rock carvings depicting African wildlife. These are considered among the best prehistoric art on the continent. There are over 2,500 individual carvings. Some examples:

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Each sunset called for a “sundowner” beverage to toast the magnificence of the landscape:

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Our final stop was Etosha National Park in the north of the country. It is roughly the size of Switzerland and is the third largest animal sanctuary in the world. We saw lions, springboks, wildebeests, zebras, giraffes, jackals, kudu, ostrich, a wide variety of birds and of course, rhinos. A few examples below and then back to the charging rhino with which I began:

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I turned to see an adult Black Rhino charging full tilt out of the forest and right at us (seemingly right at me since I was on the left side of the vehicle)! It slammed to a halt about 10 feet away, glared at us, lowered and shook its head, made a huge snort and then…

and then it quickly made a 90 degree turn to the left and charged off into the forest.

When the Rhino had charged there had been a collective gasp in the vehicle. Now there was total silence. Then our Namibian Tour Leader made a loud snorting imitation of the Rhino, we all laughed with nervous relief and then we moved on down the road.

R. Kevin Price

© 2008-2013 R.K. Price

Memory in Retirement

January 31, 2013

It is a fact: the older you get, there more there is to remember (if you are 60 it is at least three times as much as a 20 year old).  To carry this heavy load, you need to work at it, and it is not that hard to do once you “set your mind to it.”

As we age, research tells us it is normal for us to require more effort to learn new things, to multitask and to summon up names and vocabulary.  It is not clear why that is the case, although a study reported in the journal Nature Neuroscience in January 2013 suggests at least part of the reason may be due to normal age-related shrinkage in the medial prefrontal cortex region of the brain. This region is located behind the middle of the forehead and helps maintain good quality sleep. Good sleep helps the brain in its retention and consolidation of new knowledge, skills and experience.

The study found that senior participants in the study had medial prefrontal cortexes about one-third smaller than study participants who were in the 20s. The seniors were also less effective than younger participants in a memory test of new information and even less effective upon retesting after one night’s sleep. So while it is normal for seniors to need to apply greater effort to learn new things, it appears declining sleep quality may be adding to the challenge.

However, absent illness or injury, our memory of how to perform tasks and our general knowledge remain unimpaired as we grow older.  It also appears to be true that our ability to reason remains healthy and the wisdom gained from decades of experience certainly enables us to make better decisions than when all those raging hormones got in the way.

So, absent illness or injury, while our mental skills may slow some, there is no reason to fear “losing it” if we keep our minds engaged.  What actions can we take to keep our memory functioning effectively?

“Use it or lose it” applies to our minds as well as our bodies.  Studies have shown that our mental skills can be kept in shape through activities that keep our minds active and which challenge us to think in new ways.  Learning a new language or music theory, or how to play a musical instrument have all been shown to be very helpful.

Try doing things with your left hand that you would normally do with your right (if you are right-handed) and vice versa.  (Brushing your teeth is an interesting place to start; shaving is not).

Solving puzzles such as crossword, jigsaw, sudoku; playing board and card games, especially if you vary the games you play and take the time to learn new ones; participating in athletic activities, dancing, reading, improving your computer skills, socializing, can all be helpful.

Take good care of yourself physically.  Don’t smoke.  Be moderate in your use of alcohol.  Stay physically active – what’s good for the heart is good for the brain.

Be organized.  If you have a place for everything (like keys) and put things in their places they are a lot easier to find.

Keep and use a calendar.

When you meet new people, repeat their names and try to find a way to associate their names with their faces or physiques.

If you are going to be visiting with a group of people you know, review their names and the last time you saw them before the visit.

If you can’t remember something right away, relax (tension gets in the way), focus (no multitasking) and concentrate.

The existence of forgetting has never been proved:  We only know that some things don’t come to mind when we want them. – Friedrich Nietzsche

R. Kevin Price

© 2008-2013 R.K. Price

Positive Age Stereotyping

December 27, 2012

We have all heard that “we are what we eat.” It turns out “we are what we think” as well.

A recent study on age on age stereotyping suggested to me that I should update a blog of several years ago on the beneficial effects of a positive attitude in retirement.

One of the great determinants of successful retirement is our ability to maintain a positive attitude and positive self image. Retirement brings many changes and we need to be able to adjust to them and control them to the extent to which we are able. Beyond the transition from full-time employment, over time there will likely be changes in finances, health, relationships, housing and other aspects of life. A positive attitude and positive self image can help us take advantage of opportunities and “roll with the punches” if need be.

The most recent study followed several hundred adults age 70 and over during a ten year period and assessed their likelihood of recovering from a period of disability in relation to whether their views of old age were stereotypically positive or negative. The study showed that people with positive views were significantly more likely to make a full recovery.

Other studies have had similar results:

The Ohio Longitudinal Study of Aging and Retirement is a 20 year study that examined, among other things, the attitudes of people 50 and over toward aging.  The study found that people with a positive attitude about growing older lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those with a more negative attitude.  Positive attitude was a better predictor of longevity than healthy cholesterol level, regular exercise or not smoking!

The University of California San Diego School of Medicine did a study of people aged 60 to 98 regarding, among other things, their perceptions of whether they were aging successfully.  The researchers found that optimism and the ability to cope successfully with life’s challenges (attitude) were actually more important to a positive perception than physical health.

A study at the University of Texas looked at whether there was a connection between attitude and increasing frailty as people became older.  The researchers found that people who had a positive attitude were significantly less likely to become frail.  The researchers were not able to determine why that is the case but the lead researcher, Dr. Glenn Ostir said: “I believe that there is a connection between mind and body and that our thoughts and attitudes/emotions affect physical functioning and overall health, whether through direct mechanisms, such as the immune function, or indirect mechanisms, such as social support networks.”

And consider the “placebo effect.”  People who take a placebo and think they are going to get better frequently do.  It is the power of thinking positively.

Consider also all the motivational speakers – corporate, religious, athletic, military, political etc.  When you cut through to the core of their messages you more often than not you arrive at building and maintaining a positive attitude and positive self image.

So, if a positive attitude is a good thing to have, how do we go about getting one?  Some people seem to be blessed with a “natural” positive attitude to “look on the bright side” and “see the glass as half full” rather than half empty.  But if we are not one of those people what do we do?

Attitudes are forged in our thoughts, so we want to change or enhance our attitude we need to begin with how we think about situations and relationships.  Think about your attitudes toward how you spend your time, how much you are learning, your close friends, your neighbors, your health, your diet, your income, your happiness or other aspects of your life. Then reflect on how a more positive attitude with respect to those situations and relationships could have a beneficial effect in your life.  Consider how you might articulate that more positive attitude.  Write it down and repeat it to yourself every day, several times a day and look for ways to make it real in how you behave when you are by yourself and with others.  This is called positive affirmation and it is one of the most powerful ways to change attitudes.

Other things we can do:

  • Have a plan for what you want to accomplish in life; don’t let things just happen to you.
  • Take care of yourself physically and mentally.
  • Be positive in your speech.
  • Smile frequently.
  • Look for the good in situations and people.
  • Feel comfortable “in your own skin.”
  • Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.
  • Think of what you have rather than what you don’t have.
  • Laugh out loud and find humor in daily life.
  • Take time to help others.
  • Communicate.  Don’t hold things inside.
  • Manage an internal critic by focusing on ways to make things better.
  • Stay engaged with life – intellectually, socially, physically.

“Yes, a positive attitude really does make a difference.” –  Michael F. Roizen, MD

R. Kevin Price

© 2008-2012 R.K. Price