Transitions: Retirement

Retirement is a difficult transition for seniors to adjust to. It is a stage of life in which most aspects of an individual’s life change. Income, social networks, social status, time management and sense of utility or purpose all change (Donovan, 2008). Thus, the transition into retirement requires personal adjustments on multiple levels.

According to retirement coach, Donovan (2008), the five main benefits one obtains through full time work: the paycheck, time management, sense of utility or purpose, status, socialization, are essential to recreate after retirement. “Part of the planning for a vital retirement involves finding replacements for each of these five benefits” (Donovan, 2008). Also affecting the adjustment into retirement life are “activities with friends and family, feelings about rest and tranquility, and activities that fill up free time” (Nussbaum, et. al., 2000, p. 123).

The unique part about retirement as a stage of life is that it lacks the vital elements and expectations that provide fulfillment during the other stages of life. According to Walker (1999):
Youth, adulthood, and old age fit us for the school, the workplace and retirement...But retirement, unlike school and workplace is not a place. It is not an activity like education or work, nor a role defined by the development of skills or exercise of competence, like that of a student or worker. Retirement is defined instead as the cessation of the adult role of worker (p.104).
Retirement is not a destination nor is it an achievement on its own. The cessation of expectations for growing, learning and working into later life can have negative effects on individuals.

As Bartky (1999) explains, “I have seen the effects of professional obsolescence on older men in my profession” (p. 63). When her dissertation adviser retired she says, “he died shortly after” (Bartky, 1999, p. 63).

As seniors transition into retirement, one must consider the “importance of an individual’s social network” (Nussbaum, et. al., 2000, p. 117). The people whom the individual feels close to or comfortable around during his working years are the same people he will wish to spend time with during retirement and this can be a problem “for elderly people, whose close social network may no longer be living” (Nussbaum, et. al., 2000, p. 118). Equally disrupting to the adjustment to retirement is the loss of one’s social network through a post-retirement move. Seniors often choose move to locations that provide a warmer climate, although “the adjustment to retirement is often made easier by the support of families and friends” (Nussbaum, et. al., 2000, p. 123). When one moves to a new community, one loses vital support networks and must build new friendship networks or face isolation (Nussbaum, et. al., 2000, p. 123). As individuals lose friends or acquaintances through retirement, relocation, or death, there is a risk of social isolation if the individual does not find new opportunities to meet people.

For couples, the transition into retirement is additionally complicated. Bloir (2007) describes how the adjustment of retired couples takes time. They will first experience a short honeymoon phase with things running smoothly. However, when reality sets in, the excitement will wane and as Bloir (2007) explains it, “many [couples] find they’re not quite as excited about the prospect of being a senior citizen or ‘stuck’ with each other.” Spouses might feel the other is getting in the way. Such issues are compounded when the retirement was not taken voluntarily. However, as couples take on new tasks, hobbies, and interests, Bloir (2007) insists that “communication is essential.” Bloir (2007) suggests that couples remain open and honest in a loving way, about “ideas, opinions, likes, and dislikes” because, “a few minutes of heated discussion is better than weeks of repressed anger and resentment.” Couples can survive the adjustment into retirement with considerate communication and by engaging in both common and separate interests that help generate a new sense of purpose and meaning.

Activities of leisure can open up new possibilities for interpersonal communication among retired seniors, hence assisting the adjustment to retirement life. Nussbaum, et. al. (2000) explores three activities of leisure that can be completely enriching interpersonal experiences: “television, playing poker, and learning about computers” (p. 119). Television provides individuals with current events to discuss. Poker provides a group environment in which the players can have ample opportunity to interact. “The entire context of the poker environment is social” (Nussbaum, et. al., 2000, p. 119). Computer courses allow additional opportunities for communication as individuals share information and help one another. Computer courses also give individuals a chance to discuss information with others outside their class. As Nussbaum, et. al. (2000) explains, their familiarity with computers gives them “practical skills and conversational skills…[that] can lead to intergenerational relationships” (p. 119). Plus, the improvement of seniors’ abilities in computer literacy can improve social status, allow seniors to “remain connected with their larger social development and to develop new relationships with those who have similar interests” (Nussbaum, et. al., 2000, p. 120). Thus, through activities that on the surface appear quite casual, seniors can find abundant opportunities to improve communications and find fulfillment during their post-working years.

Bartky, S. L. (1999). Unplanned Obsolescence: Some Reflections on Aging. In M. U. Walker (Ed.), Mother Time. Women, Aging, and Ethics. (pp. 61-74). Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Bloir, K. (2007, October 8). "Honey, I'm Home!" - For Good: The Transition to Retirement. Ohio State University. Retrieved July 9, 2009, from

Donovan, J. H. (2008, October 3). Coaching: Transition into retirement. Keys to success in the next part of your journey. Retrieved July 10, 2009 from:

Nussbaum, J. F., Pecchioni, L. L., Robinson, J. D., & Thompson T. L.. (2000). Communication and Aging. (2nd ed.). London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

Walker, M. U. (1999). Getting Out of Line: Alternatives to Life As a Career. In M. U. Walker (Ed.), Mother Time. Women, Aging, and Ethics. (pp. 97-111). Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

All content © Village Memorial. 2009-2010.

Social Support for Seniors

“No matter what age they are, all human beings strive to be close to other human beings” (B). For seniors, the closeness and communications they share within a social support network results in many benefits. “The literature demonstrates a consistent association between well-being and social networks in old age” (C).

Family communication plays a notable role in the health of seniors. “Intergenerational family relations seem to be of special relevance in their contribution to health and well-being of older family members. Key features of intergenerational relationships include association, help, and support” (C). The helping and caregiving behaviors towards parents by adult children have been shown to be a result of life-span attachment theory according to Cicirelli (B). The increased attachment of adult children to their elderly parents as they age enhances the detection of the parent’s needs for help and “increases the likelihood that help will be given” (B).

Although elderly parents oftentimes receive help by their adult children, help is likely mutual between parent and child. While parents have given “more services and money to their children throughout their life…children give more emotional support, household help, and care during illness” (B). Of the help that elderly parents provide, Nussbaum, (2000) notes that “housekeeping, babysitting, food preparation, and help with finances” are the most common (B). However, this assistance wanes around the time when the parent reaches 75 years in age when the children begin to give more assistance than they receive in return (B).

Perhaps the emotional support, assistance and care during illness, by children of elderly parents, helps explain what the studies have indicated - that childless elderly people are less satisfied with family life (B). “Childless widows had lower overall well-being and were more lonely and dissatisfied with their lives than were widows with grown children” (B). Personally I have noticed that widows who are childless face additional hardships when their independence is affected. When a good elderly friend of mine became ill and could no longer tend to personal errands, the fact that she was childless compounded her troubles by forcing her to pay for things her children might have provided (in home assistance, deliveries of food and or rides to appointments).

Nussbaum (2000) mentions that “one of the most important aspects of the affective nature of the parent-adult child relationship is that closeness in this long-standing relationship provides a sense of continuity as the parent and child manage transitions in their lives” (B). This closeness offers emotional support for both parent and child as “they help each other through” stressful events and other adjustments (B). Widowhood is one life adjustment when widows and widowers have found their families to be most helpful. As women’s friendships are more “companionate, rather than comforting,” “widows find their friends helpful” but “not strong contributors to support systems” (B). Relatives of widows and widowers “give socioemotional assurance, financial aid and provide a source of identity” and more often accept their “frailties and vulnerabilities” (B), further proving that family closeness provides a level of support that is far superior to other relationships in seniors’ lives.

The health of seniors is deeply affected by communicative relationships as they “seem to influence how quickly they get well” once they become ill (B). For seniors without a strong social support system, “the difficult changes that many…face—such as the death of a spouse or medical problems—can lead to depression” (A). Fortunately, findings indicate that 34% of widows and widowers receive help from family or their support network (B). However, for seniors who live alone a strong support network may not be as readily available to them. A 2004 study indicated that, “living alone was…related to decreased levels of both perceived social support and feeling lonely after adjustment for potential confounders” (D). Yeh and Lo (2004) also note that a “lack of social support is common among the elderly community who live alone, which could well be a main reason for this group to feel lonely.” The fact that, “loneliness is linked to physical and mental health problems, [makes] increasing social support and facilitating friendships” vital for seniors (D).

Clearly, the benefits seniors obtain from close relationships with family and friends cannot be diminished. Family communication encourages much needed assistance and support for seniors during difficult times or when faced with health issues. However, prior to age 75 seniors offer a great deal of the assistance to their children. For seniors who live alone they might find it more difficult to build or maintain a strong social support network, which may help to explain why some childless seniors find less satisfaction with life than do seniors with adult children.


(A) Depression in Older Adults and the Elderly - Recognizing the Signs and Getting Help. (2009). Retrieved from:

(B) Nussbaum, J. F., Pecchioni, L. L., Robinson, J. D., Thompson, T. L. (2000) Aging and the Family: Relational Lifestyle Changes. In Communication and Aging (2nd ed.). (pp.177,192-195,232)Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers.

(C) Tesch-Romer, C., Motel-Klingebiel A., von Kondratowitz H. J. (2002). Importance of family for quality of life of the elderly in a social and cultural comparison. NCBI PubMed. Retrieved from:

(D) Yeh, Shu-Chuan Jennifer, Lo, Sing Kai. (2004). Social Behavior and Personality. Retrieved from:
All content © Village Memorial. 2009-2010.

The Whales of August

Having recently been catching up on the long, historic career of Bette Davis, I was looking forward to watching one of her last films, “The Whales of August.” In the film, Bette Davis and Lillian Gish play elderly sisters. Bette’s character, “Libby” is blind and her sister “Sarah” (Lillian Gish) cares for her and maintains the home they share.

This film shed a very positive light on aging. Seniors were depicted as independent and able to care for themselves. They helped each other instead of relying on younger friends, family or caregivers. I wish I saw more of this in television and advertising. The only other media depiction of seniors I’ve seen that comes close is the “Golden Girls” where the women support each other through life’s events. However, even one of the characters on the Golden Girls, (Sofia), is cared for by a younger, though senior aged, daughter.

“The Whales of August” depicts seniors as active (walking, cleaning, cooking, maintaining health and wellbeing, visiting friends, paining oil paintings and arranging flowers). The characters blend their past, present and futures in healthy ways as they hold onto and honor traditions, but still find enjoyment the present and find future events to look forward to.

What was also notably different in this film was the way the characters embraced aging. Blind Libby asks her sister if her hair was as white as a swan. When her sister says she believes it is, Libby comments that she’d always had beautiful hair. I cannot recall any film or media character embracing age so gracefully. The two sisters in the film also dressed up for company and took great pride in the care of their hair. They did not complain about their age, appearance, or life. While I do not see this as being realistic for many, as many people have real problems to contend with, I do see it as a model for enjoying life.

By not focusing on the negatives (not once does Libby complain she is blind or cannot see what others are discussing - photos, jewelry, flowers, ocean view), there is more time to focus on the positives or approach things a new way. For instance, blind Libby is able to feel the flowers, jewelry, or sunshine, and hear a description of the photographs. She even agrees to the installation of a picture window in their living room, though she won’t be able to see out of it herself. She comments on how nice the day feels by the warmth of the sun coming in through the window. Libby depicts a woman who is perfectly content with these filtered observations, and I imagine the lesson to viewers is to enjoy interacting with others regardless and not feel sorry for oneself.

Anderson, L. (Director), Berry, D. (Writer). (1987). The Whales of August. [DVD]. USA: MGM.

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