The Hidden Danger of Retirement


If you haven’t considered retirement planning for your brain, perhaps you should. Retirement is more than just having the financial means to no longer work. Just like marriage and childbirth, the age of retirement is a seminal event that often signifies a greater freedom of activity, movement, and enjoyment, as afforded by a life free from employment. There are those who retire late, into their seventies, and some who retire quite early, in their fifties. The average age of retirement in America is 62 years old (Brandon, 2014), but many Americans have come to see themselves working for an additional four years, to the age of 66, in light of the contemporary economic downturn.
And among the pool of growing baby-boomer retirees, there is a subset of the population that is not enjoying the freedom that this milestone brings. A study on this subject by counseling psychologist Nancy Schlossberg, EdD, found varied approaches with which retirees confronted their life after work:
• The Continuers: who maintained hobbies and interests developed in earlier life
• The Adventurers: who sought news paths to enjoyment by cultivating new hobbies or engaging in new activities
• The Searchers: who experimented with different curiosities by trial and error
• The Easy Gliders: who relished each day, and the down-time, as it came
• The Involved Spectators: who were deeply connected to the world but participated less actively
• The Retreaters: who disengaged from life and became isolated
(American Psychological Association, 2005)
The age at which one retires, the enjoyment of one’s career, the level of financial security one has, and one’s expectations of retired life all have demonstrable effects on well-being in one’s later years. As one might expect, those in the Retreaters group seem to be at the most risk for struggling in their old age. Those who decline and fail to flourish in retirement show signs of depression, instances of extreme anxiety, and in some cases decompensation as related to encroaching dementia. The age of dementia onset has been associated with the age of retirement in males, yet age alone is not the only risk factor at work here. On an interesting note, those who do not do well psychologically during retirement tend to be those who have tied their identity and self-worth to their job, which, as sociologists have pointed out, is a phenomenon that is especially prevalent in contemporary American society. In retiring from a career that they have let define them, these people might feel that they have lost the personal meaning that they have ascribed to their life. Considering this interpretation, it is not hard to see why there are many older people who slip into decline.
The take-home is this: in order to maximize well-being during retirement and thus avoid psychological difficulty, one must fall into one of the groups above that entail an active and meaningful lifestyle, which could mean volunteering, exercising more, continuing education, or travelling, not to mention a combination of all of these and many more activities. Furthermore, it never hurts to have an identity and sense of self-worth that is related to something more stable than a simple profession or place of employment.

There are many resources one can turn to for guidance as they approach the retiring age. The APA’s “Life Plan for the Life Span 2012” is a manuscript put out by the Committee on Aging to help the geriatric population adequately conceptualize and plan their retirement. The transition from working to being retired can be a long and rocky road, but don’t ever think that you must drive it alone. By planning for the psychological elements of your retirement, you can see the rocks and pot-holes ahead and take the best road.
American Psychological Association. (2005, April 14). Thinking about retirement? Time to think about your psychological portfolio. Retrieved January 27, 2017, from American Psychological Association,
Brandon, E. (2014, May 12). The Ideal Retirement Age – And Why You Won’t Retire Then. Retrieved January 27, 2017, from US News,

About Allison Kahner Psy.D.

Allison Kahner, Psy.D., is the managing editor of She is the Executive Director of Cognitive Therapy Associates, which is a network of licensed psychologists and social workers who provide cognitive-behavioral therapy across the NYC area. Dr. Kahner also maintains a private practice, and she treats individuals and couples for a wide variety of problems, such as depression, anxiety disorders, relationship problems, weight loss and management, low self esteem, assertive communication, and life transitions.