How to Improve Your Memory in Retirement

Early in my career my job routinely required me to juggle multiple responsibilities at the same time. A typical morning involved reading through accumulated emails with a phone wedged between my ear and shoulder while a line of sales reps formed just outside my cubical. I wasn’t necessarily the most efficient with my attention divided like this, but it was the nature of the job. There was so much to get done during the course of the day that I did not have the luxury to focus my attention exclusively on one item at a time. Fortunately, I was able to successfully multitask.

Now as I approach retirement age I am beginning to believe the multitasking I used to be so good at may do more harm than good. In my daily endeavors I find it increasingly challenging to juggle more than a few things at once. And I quickly forget the specifics. Without focusing my attention I miss important details along the way. Here’s what I’m doing to work on improving my memory:


Pay attention. I am discovering that my memory improves when I try to concentrate only on the specific task at hand. For example, when in a parking lot I make a conscious note of exactly where I leave my car. I pay particular attention to the name when introduced to someone new, trying to make some association that will help me remember. When
listening to a lengthy discussion, I make the extra effort to stay focused rather than allow my mind free reign to wander. I find that by focusing in on the one thing immediately at hand my memory miraculously improves. When we are constantly bombarded by advertising, noise and stimuli from all sides, it is easy to become sidetracked and distracted. But if we can cut through the noise and think clearly about what we are doing right now, perhaps we can resist the temptation to let our minds wander off the subject.

Forgetfulness. I don’t think that my memory challenges are entirely due to getting older. It is not that I am forgetful, but I am less able to divide my attention across multiple topics. If my mind wanders to a future dinner party at the instant I put my car keys down, chances are I will have a hard time relocating those same keys when it is time to head out the door. Should my wife share important events of her day while I am looking at the clock to see how close it is to the 49er’s kickoff, I risk missing her message entirely. And then I feel like a fool having to ask her to repeat what I know she just explained. The more I allow myself to be distracted by what I should be or can be doing, the less aware I become of what I am doing right now. Many a glass of water has overfilled and spilled onto the counter as I distractedly set about doing too many things at once. Maybe my younger mind was capable of this multitasking challenge, but these days it isn’t.

Live in the moment. It is easy to find your thoughts wandering, even when engaged in something as simple as walking the neighborhood after dinner. If your mind is out there somewhere, you can miss all that is going on around you at this specific moment. You may find yourself planning tomorrow’s projects, but by doing so overlook the magnificent world around you right now. As your thoughts stray, you miss the rising moon and first twinkling stars of the evening. More significantly, you ignore the person walking at your side when both of you are caught up in distant thoughts. By trying to live consciously in the moment, your attention is not diverted toward other horizons. You can become more aware and attentive. You may be surprised what you begin to notice, appreciate and remember.

Do one thing at a time. For me, maintaining a better memory really comes down to doing one thing at a time. I can still multitask but not as efficiently as I used to. In retirement I hope to be busy doing things I want to do at my own pace. I will have the luxury of putting off for later what I cannot manage right now. And this new freedom should allow me to focus on and appreciate each individual activity to the fullest. Rather than having my attention diluted across too many events, I plan to give each my all. With this focus, I hope my memory will be my friend in the years ahead.

From my US News & World blog. Dave Bernard is the author of “I Want To Retire! Essential Considerations for the Retiree to Be“. Although not yet retired, he focuses on identifying and understanding the essential components of a fulfilling and meaningful retirement. He shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement-Only The Beginning.

Why Retirement Should Scare You

Much of what we read and hear suggests retirement should be a wonderful time of new adventure, exciting moments and blissful days. We finally have the free time to pursue passions and explore new hobbies, rather than being forced to adhere to the dictates of a job or career. But when you think about your retirement-to-be, do you ever find yourself feeling a bit anxious? Here are six reasons you might not experience the retirement you are hoping for:

Dwindling savings. Retirees are not always financially prepared to realize the blissful retirement life they aspire to. The stock market crash of 2008 wiped out trillions of dollars in retirement accounts. When the stock market eventually bottomed out in the first quarter of 2009, retirement accounts had lost about $2.7 trillion, 31 percent of their peak 2007 value.

No more paydays. For some people, things are finally starting to get back on track. But those years of lost account growth cannot be recouped. And many people continue to struggle with no happy end in sight. Some employees have been prematurely forced from jobs due to health issues or changes in their business, short-circuiting plans to build savings accounts to fund retirement. And it’s not easy to get another job once you pass age 50. Middle-age job hunters are discovering that many companies prefer to bring in younger folks who are more affordable and cheaper to insure.

Health problems. Health concerns can become more acute as we move up the age ladder. Despite our best efforts, we are just not as capable of doing all the things we did while younger. What kind of retirement will it be if we find ourselves physically unable to take advantage of the free hours we worked so hard to achieve? It is one thing to contemplate how you will strive to accept aging and its various challenges. It is quite another to find yourself living those challenges day in and day out.

Boredom. Boredom is a real possibility for people who have grown accustomed to work filling the hours in the day. Few people have to worry about keeping busy while caught up in 8- to 12-hour days. We all know how important it is to remain active and engaged as we age to fight off the effects of aging. But what exactly are you going to do to keep engaged and active? Consider whether you have enough hobbies and interests to keep you busy during the many retirement years ahead. For those who retire at 65, 20 or more years await you in retirement. Filling those years pursuing your passions sounds excellent, unless you haven’t identified any passions to inspire your days.

End of life issues. Couples will need to adjust to the reality that one member is likely to outlive the other. After so many years spent together, the prospect of spending your remaining years without a familiar hand to hold can be terrifying. It scares me to imagine living my second act without my wife to share in moments and make them that much more special.

Dependency. Another unwelcome companion to aging can be the tendency to lose one’s independence. Whether retiring in place or navigating the roads in our cars, seemingly little things can become a struggle as we advance in years. No one wants to give up their independent living. And no one wants to be a burden on family and friends.

It sometimes scares me to think of the realities that retirement may hold. As an optimist, I hope for the best and try not to let potential negatives cloud my outlook. Perhaps if I can go into retirement with preparations for and acceptance that life will be different from what it has been to this point, I can experience some of the magic that we all search for in our second act.

From my US News & World blog. Dave Bernard is the author of “I Want To Retire! Essential Considerations for the Retiree to Be“. Although not yet retired, he focuses on identifying and understanding the essential components of a fulfilling and meaningful retirement. He shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement-Only The Beginning.

7 Warning Signs Your Retirement is in Jeopardy

You probably have a few ideas about what life in retirement will look like. Unfortunately, nothing is guaranteed, and that fulfilling retirement you dream of may not turn out to be exactly what you had imagined. Retirement planning can be more effective if you are aware of some of the potential pitfalls you might encounter. Watch out for these retirement red flags:

You have not prepared for the possibility of a long life. People are living longer due to advances in science and medicine. There were 53,364 centenarians in the U.S. in 2010, a number that is projected to grow to more than 600,000 by 2050. If you are fortunate enough to be part of that growing number, you may want to plan for a longer retirement than what has historically been the norm. If you retire at 65, you could spend another 20 to 30 years in retirement. You don’t want to run out of resources when you still have years to live.

You and your spouse are not on the same page. It is helpful for couples to understand the expectations each of you has regarding retirement. You will do things together, and you will pursue your own individual interests. But each of your roles will change now that you could be together 24/7. Husbands retiring from a managerial role may find themselves tempted to utilize their skills to manage the household even though their spouse has successfully handled that for decades. If one partner is used to being at home with a
regular routine established, the introduction of an ever-helpful spouse can cause waves. It is just as important to have private time to pursue individual interests as it is to spend quality time together.

You have not yet considered what you will do to occupy yourself.While pursuing a career that likely spanned 30 years or more, much of your daily life and routine was dictated by the job. Interaction with others and recognition for your efforts likely gave meaning to your days. However, when you retire, you get to decide how your hours will be occupied. The good news is you can choose to do whatever you wish. The challenge is if you have not thought ahead, you may run out of ideas before too long. While you may be able to keep busy, it can be more challenging to find meaningful activities that make the moments spent worthwhile.

You are not taking care of your health. The basic challenges of everyday life tend to get more difficult as we age. However we can do our best to reduce the impact of aging by living a healthy lifestyle, watching what we eat, exercising regularly and avoiding excesses. If we do not do our part to maintain our physical health, we may not be as well prepared to fully experience what retired life has to offer.

You try to do everything on your own. We have lived an independent life to this point. It can be challenging to hand over the reins to someone else, but we will likely sacrifice some part of our independence as we age. You probably won’t be able to do everything yourself in retirement. Make sure that you set up a support system for your later years when help is likely to be increasingly necessary.

You feel impatient with everything. The elderly are seldom renowned for exhibiting excess amounts of patience. The hard truth is that aging is a challenge. Ideally, we will learn to cut those around us a little slack and smile once in a while, even though we may feel like screaming. If every little thing rubs us the wrong way, not only will retirement be a painful time, but we may find ourselves alone when few people choose to tolerate our rantings.

You resign yourself to let life pass you by. You may start to find yourself thinking, “I am too old for this.” Sure, you cannot do everything you used to at 20, but there is still much that you are capable of doing. My aunt, at 72, just returned from three weeks in Russia, and has penciled in a two week safari in Africa a few months down the road. My 82-year-old parents were cutting a rug at my daughter’s recent wedding, showing us youngsters how it is done. At 88, Michelangelo was still working on St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. It’s not over until it’s over.

From my blog on US News & World. Dave Bernard is the author of “I Want To Retire! Essential Considerations for the Retiree to Be“. Although not yet retired, he focuses on identifying and understanding the essential components of a fulfilling and meaningful retirement. He shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement-Only The Beginning.