Today more than 70 million Americans ages 50 and older suffer from at least one chronic condition. That’s 4 out of 5 people within 20 years of retirement.
Are you ready for retirement? Chances are your first thought is how much money you have tried to stash away. Yet your health is likely to be an even bigger factor in when, whether and how you can retire or pursue a new passion after you stop working full time. Fortunately there are some steps you can take to increase your chances of having a healthy retirement.
Two factors—longer life spans and aging of the large baby boomer generation—will combine to double the population of Americans aged 65 years or older during the next 25 years to about 72 million. By 2030, older adults will account for roughly 20% of the U.S. population. Boomers are also on track to be the sickest generation the United States has ever seen. The implications are even more astounding when you consider how many boomers are already providing informal care for someone else.
Since the 1980s, working adults have been encouraged to save enough for retirement. But it wasn’t until recently that those popular retirement calculators started suggesting people consider what they might need to cover health care costs. Unfortunately, even when people are factoring in their health care in retirement, many health care needs may be hard to predict. In this case, a good offense could be the best defense.
Define your version of healthy retirement
With the help of medical advancements and sheer numbers (and often by necessity), many boomers have continued working in some capacity well into their 70s and beyond.
Every generation in modern history has redefined what it means to work, retire and grow old.
“Health plays a bigger role in retirement than we think,” Joseph Agostini, M.D., Aetna’s national medical director for Medicare, said.
“For some people, health forces them to leave the workplace earlier than they planned or wanted. For others, a health scare earlier in life may have compelled them to make big changes that end up giving them more options later on,” he said.
Four out of five people over 50 already have one chronic condition. And millions of adults are already providing care to a family member or friend with health issues. All of this means there is no single definition of a healthy retirement. There are, however, several common threads that can contribute to a healthier retirement, Agostini said.
Planning for health in retirement depends on where you are starting. If you have diabetes, you probably know what you’ll need to manage your condition as you age (if not, ask questions). If you have minor health issues now but know you are at risk for more serious conditions that might be avoided, find out what you can do to head that off through lifestyle changes and other things within your control.
If you have ignored your health for years, you may have a lot of catching up to do but some changes now can make a big difference later. At the very least, eating a healthier diet and starting an exercise program if you can may boost your mood, improve your mobility and help you manage stress.
Your health insurance does more than pay your claims. Take some time to understand what’s covered by your health plan. To avoid unpleasant surprises, determine ahead of time how much the plan will pay for certain procedures and what you might have to cover out of your own pocket. You can also research ways to reduce the cost of your prescriptions . Mobile apps like iTriage can provide useful information about medical conditions and local care options.
Health care is complex, particularly if you have multiple health care providers and multiple chronic conditions. If you can be your own health manager, it’s the best way to make sure your health care providers know what they need to know about you. An electronic health record also can be very useful for keeping everyone in the loop.
Times have changed. Doctors are more accustomed to patients who have done some research and come ready with questions. For example, let’s say you have diabetes. Maybe you read about new therapies, programs designed just for diabetic patients, better drugs, or different kinds/types of insulin. Doctors can’t read your mind, so speak up and make the most of every appointment by arriving prepared with questions.
Wellness includes taking care of your physical and mental health. If you are struggling, try finding comfort in others who are experiencing the same concerns/issues you are. If you made it through a tough period, offer to help someone else who could use the support.
Only a little more than half of Baby Boomers (51 percent) are confident they will be able to retire when they want to, according to a recent study. Also, just 53 percent of Baby Boomers are confident they will be able to cover their medical expenses in retirement. Even small steps toward better health can help you feel better and spend less.
For some people, aging will lead to periods of poor health when some kind of help will be necessary. Many people don’t want to think about a loved one facing declining health or death, but planning ahead can make a difficult and painful experience a little stressful for everyone involved. Your family may not be ready to talk about it, but it’s important for them to know your preferences.
A healthy retirement is a balance between self-care and self-acceptance. You may not be able to escape the challenges that come with getting older, but you can take steps to prepare for and experience a healthier retirement, however you define it.