10 Retirement Tips for People Who Have Become Carers

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Article by 

Mary Bart

Is retirement not quite turning out as you expected? Have those dreams of sitting on a tropical island, sipping martinis, been replaced by caring for a loved one?

Make the most of your retirement years with these words of advice:

1. Keep an optimistic attitude

Having an optimistic attitude and helping you deal with your loved one’s good sense of humour can only increase your enjoyment of the world. Life often throws us nasty surprises and curve balls, but staying upbeat will sustain you through difficult times. If you find yourself becoming overwhelmed with feelings of sadness, hopelessness or depression, seek professional help.

Being a primary carer might not have been in your planned future, but it is a transition that is often part of the aging process and is now your new normal. Accepting and embracing this change will better allow you to make the most of each day.

2. Take care of your health

Create and maintain a regimen to take care of your health. With others counting on you, staying active, alert and healthy can make all the difference. Part of being healthy means not over-eating or -drinking and taking the time for your own medical and dental check-ups and appointments.

Being physically active is key. Try walking the block, taking a Zumba class or even regularly following an exercise video at home to keep supple and fit.

3. Stay connected and embrace life-long learning

Participate more, share more and do what you can to spend time with others. Here are just a few ideas…

If you have always enjoyed your book club, an evening class or simply having coffee with a friend, keep doing them. If necessary, ask friends or family for help so that you can take time for yourself on a regular basis.

Seek out local support groups to help you deal with your loved one’s health issues. Most health-related organizations (e.g., the Alzheimer Society, Heart and Stroke Foundation) offer such groups for families with common issues, needs and realities to come together.

Do things with grandchildren or young adults—their energy and joy for life can be contagious. In addition, young people offer a wonderful connection to new ideas and technologies that will open doors for you.

Explore cultural activities. Enjoy a free concert in the park, visit a museum or check out the animals at the local zoo. If mobility is an issue, look online to make sure your chosen place is accessible.

Get involved in politics. Learn more about your neighbours and their issues and concerns. Offer to lend a hand with campaigns and support the next candidate running in your riding.

Technology is a great, often inexpensive way to stay connected. Try a computer class, learn to Skype or take an online course. The internet will expand your world, increase your links to the outside and sustain your spirits, even during the most miserable winter weather. Embracing life-long learning is all about consciously keeping a sharp mind. Challenging yourself to try something new – such as playing the piano, taking an art class or simply trying a new recipe – will make sure your brain stays active.

Meet Sam

Sam’s heart attack forced him to rethink his life and ultimately led to an earlier-than-expected retirement. He also had to change his eating habits and add more exercise to his days. Through the
months of Sam’s recovery, his family offered their love and support by preparing his meals, cleaning his home and doing his shopping.

Sam is now an active retiree who plays golf regularly with friends, travels and volunteers at
his local hospital. According to Sam, “I am very thankful for the support of my family and now lead a rich, full life.”

Meet Ruth

Ruth’s husband, Luke, has dementia. Ruth, who is 72 years old, now spends most of her time caring for Luke and rarely leaves him alone. Ruth shares her thoughts about her life. “I thought that when I quit work, I would visit with friends and Luke and I would travel. That is nothing close to what my life is today. Today, I work harder than ever before to keep my husband, myself and our home going. Caring, although not what I had planned for this stage of my life, is now allowing me to cherish every day with Luke. I know that my carer will not last forever, but today, it is my life. It is my purpose.”

4. Consider your financial stability

Managing your finances so that you can deal with any nasty surprises will make you feel more comfortable and secure. As a carer, there might well be extra costs that you hadn’t thought about. Will you need to pay for home care services, medical supplies or prescriptions? Perhaps this is the time to “right size” your home. That might mean moving into a smaller place, such as a flat or bungalow, or upgrading your existing house so that it has a safer bathroom, wider doorways and less challenging entrances and exits. The decisions you make about where you live should take into account potential future health needs, ease of maintenance and proximity to medical services.

If it is possible in your situation, you might also consider returning to work on a part-time basis, both to bring extra cash and to stay socially engaged. Do the math. Look at your current and expected expenses and compare them with the money you have. A financial planner can often identify areas where you can change your spending to allow you to maintain your lifestyle. Of course, all financial planners will tell you to live within your means and make (often difficult) adjustments to keep your head above water.

5. Think about spirituality

Spirituality is not the same as religion. It is about you knowing who you are, how you handle challenges and what your place is in this world. How you see yourself and your world is drawn from your purpose in life and your ongoing values. Knowing who you are will keep you strong and able to tackle and conquer each day.

6. Get your legal affairs in order

It is never too early and sometimes too late to get your legal affairs in order. Work with a lawyer to draft a power of attorney document and will, and make sure the person you are caring for also has his or her affairs in order. Working with a lawyer to write these documents will ensure that your wishes, values
and beliefs are respected, and will also bring greater peace of mind in your retirement to you and your family.

7. Give back and volunteer

Ask retirees why they volunteer, and they will probably say that they like to support a project or cause they believe in, and that allows them to use their skills and knowledge to make a worthwhile contribution. There are many volunteering opportunities out there, such as mentoring or helping at the local food bank.

Staying active and involved has clear health benefits, such as reducing the likelihood of loneliness, depression and isolation and keeping the body and mind sharp and engaged.

It is usually easy to find volunteering opportunities, especially if you use the Internet. Most organizations have websites, and many community services groups post placements. Find something that interests you and give back. You will achieve great satisfaction by helping others.

8 Explore new hobbies

Take time for yourself and activities that make you feel happy and fulfilled. Going back to an old favourite or trying a new hobby that you’ve never had time for in the past can be good for your mind, body and soul. Ok, so skydiving might be a bit risky, but lots of us still decide it’s now or never and jump on our 60th, 70th or 80th birthdays!

Think of things you enjoy doing, and be sure to write them into your schedule. Don’t feel that you have to go for the big adventure. Simple things, such as knitting a scarf, reading the latest book from your favourite author, planting bright flowers in the garden or taking photographs of birds in the park,
can be just as fulfilling. These activities don’t cost much money, yet they will bring a wealth of joy into your world.

Create goals for your hobbies and plan special things to look forward to – improve your golf score, join friends for a mid-week game of cards or try a new recipe each week. Be bold and creative, and your days will become more fun and rewarding.

The trouble with retirement is you never get a day off.

9. Make life plans

In contrast to our younger working or childbearing years, our time as older adults can be less well-structured and lack a specific roadmap. For some, having short, medium and long-term plans can be comforting.

Think about today. What is on your plate, and how can you make the most of living in the moment? Where can you expect your life to be in five, 10 and 20 years? Having an idea of these time frames will allow you to design a plan that might have different activities or responsibilities for each time period. For example, you might be living in a large house today and want to downsize in a few years or plan to reduce your working hours. Creating a life plan will not only help you to stay positive but will also keep you on track to reach your personal goals.

Meet Rose

This mother of three took early retirement to care for her sister. Rose is still very active. She volunteers at the local church and attends fitness classes to keep herself healthy. “I try to see friends on a regular basis and focus on eating well, but it’s hard to juggle everything.” “I’ve got my hands full caring for my older sister

Babs. She’s got bad arthritis and needs me to shop, take her to appointments and cook most of her meals. She fusses quite a lot and calls me from her apartment at all hours, day and night—it’s hard for both of us. I’m afraid she soon won’t be able to live on her own.”

This mother of three took early retirement to care for her sister. Rose is still very active. She volunteers at the local church and attends fitness classes to keep herself healthy. “I try to see friends on a regular basis and focus on eating well, but it’s hard to juggle everything.” “I’ve got my hands full caring for my older sister Babs. She’s got bad arthritis and needs me to shop, take her to appointments and cook most of her meals. She fusses quite a lot and calls me from her apartment at all hours, day and night—it’s hard for both of us. I’m afraid she soon won’t be able to live on her own.”

10. Foster relationships

Close relationships give our lives purpose and shape who we are. As we get older, we can decide who we want to associate with, and we can let friends, family and acquaintances either stay with us or drift away. Try to stay close to people who are dear, regardless of the miles that separate you. If your marital status changes, you might consider exploring new romantic relationships. Seek out community and hobby groups that will introduce you to interesting potential friends.

I hope you find some of these tips helpful. Being a carer reshapes our worlds, dreams and plans. However, both caring and retirement offer new opportunities and challenges. Success in negotiating these will be achieved by maintaining a positive attitude, adapting to change and taking care of yourself. Fulfilment will come through cherishing the good days, planning for better days and dreaming of great days.

Mary Bart is the chair of Caregiving Matters, an internet-based registered charity that offers education and support to carers.

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