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It's a Purposeful Life

It's a Purposeful Life - Finding Meaning in Retirement is Essential

by Don Drake, Connelly Law Offices, Ltd. 4.21.24


Medicaid Planning Rhode Island
Attorney RJ Connelly III

Kathleen and her husband Carl, both of whom had successful careers, decided to retire. Kathleen was a medical professional in eastern Connecticut, and Carl owned a construction business, which he sold upon retirement. They bought a house in Florida for their golden years while keeping their home in southern New England. The couple spent several days a month in the Sunshine State and returned to Connecticut while Kathleen slowly wrapped up her practice.


However, things took a negative turn when Carl's medical issues were exacerbated by the cold winters in Connecticut, and he decided to move to Florida full-time. On the other hand, Kathleen wanted to maintain her medical practice for a few more years before retiring. Commuting from Connecticut to Florida took a toll on her, and she eventually decided to close her office and start the next chapter of her life with her husband.


Professional Fiduciary and certified elder law Attorney RJ Connelly III, who worked with Kathleen during this transition, stated that it was difficult for her. "Kathleen, with forty years of experience in the medical field, had dedicated her life to the care of others. However, in the process, she had lost touch with her interests beyond work. Discovering fulfillment and leading a purposeful life is a gradual process that can take time. For many individuals, retirement often considered a panacea, can become a quandary."


For many retiring couples, this can be a daunting experience that leaves them lost and seeking the personal satisfaction that their job once provided. Attorney Connelly stated that having a sense of purpose is essential, especially for seniors. Retirees often ask themselves the existential question, "Just why am I here?" so it is crucial to find a sense of purpose in life, even after decades of a successful career.


What is a Sense of Purpose?

Retirement can be a significant turning point in one's life, leading to questioning and self-reflection. For many people, their career has defined their identity, and once they retire, they may wonder what their purpose in life is. It is crucial to re-evaluate one's values and examine their evolution. This introspection can lead to a better understanding of oneself and a renewed sense of purpose.


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A sense of purpose is a necessity

"Having a sense of purpose in retirement is more than just having something to keep oneself busy; it's about finding something that is personally rewarding, a reason to wake up every day, and a feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day," Attorney Connelly said. "When reviewing an estate plan with a newly retired individual or couple, I often spend time with them, exploring themes in their lives that can help them find a sense of purpose when retirement occurs."


Attorney Connelly advises asking questions beyond what the person did professionally and instead focusing on why they did it. For instance, what was most satisfying about their career? For Carl and Kathleen, the answer was helping people. They needed to find a way to continue doing this outside their work. They started a blog and newsletter, mentoring peers about aging and retirement, giving them a new life purpose.


Finding a sense of purpose can also have health implications. Research shows that people with a sense of purpose have better mental and physical health outcomes than those without. Finding purpose can lead to a happier, healthier, and more fulfilling retirement.


Health and a Sense of Purpose

According to Patrick Hill, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, individuals with a sense of purpose tend to be less reactive to stressors and more engaged in their daily lives. This, in turn, can promote both cognitive and physical health. He suggests that seniors with a sense of purpose may be more physically active and care for their health better. Furthermore, they may be less susceptible to stress, which can fuel dangerous inflammation. Research has linked a sense of purpose with various health benefits, including reducing stress-related health issues.


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Hiking contributes to physical and emotional health

Not everyone has the privilege of being able to contemplate their purpose, like Kathleen and Carl. Many seniors lack the necessary resources and opportunities to do so. However, according to Attorney Connelly, finding a sense of purpose does not require leading a group or developing a newsletter. Instead, individuals can find purpose in the most fundamental aspects of life, such as planting a garden, caring for a pet, or aiding a neighbor with household chores or transportation.


"When advising clients on setting goals for their later years, many seek grand objectives," stated Attorney Connelly. "However, given that many have already accomplished significant feats, such as raising children and enjoying successful careers, it is crucial to be realistic. Simply having an objective, regardless of its magnitude, can be enough to inspire and motivate someone, which is what truly matters."


Motivating Seniors

Individuals or couples who appear unmotivated can be helped by their loved ones or friends. To this end, Attorney Connelly recommends socializing as the first step toward reigniting their spark.


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Socialization is important

"Isolation can lead to loneliness, which in turn can lead to a sense of doom," he said. "The recent lockdown has only served to exacerbate this problem. Seniors should be encouraged to leave their homes and engage in social activities. Going to senior centers, taking trips with other seniors, going for walks in parks, and visiting museums are all excellent ways to re-engage with the world and rediscover a sense of purpose. Socializing and engaging in meaningful conversation can often help seniors regain motivation."


Attorney Connelly suggests exploring alternative options for seniors who love pets but may have physical or cognitive limitations. For instance, volunteering at a shelter with a mentor can help seniors who cannot care for animals in their homes for various reasons. This gives them a reason to get up in the morning and interact with others that they need to thrive. Pets are helpful for many seniors and provide them with a sense of purpose, as pets depend on us for food, walks, and love. However, it is vital to consider the senior's limitations before recommending pet ownership.


Failure to Thrive

Failure to thrive in seniors who lack socialization and other forms of stimulation has become increasingly common. Often associated with infants, this term is now being used to describe the decline in health seen in older adults without any apparent medical explanation.


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"The manifestation of adult failure to thrive is characterized by a gradual decline in health, which can lead to severe consequences," said Attorney Connelly.


The symptoms of failure to thrive in adults include unexplained weight loss, decreased appetite, poor nutrition, and inactivity. These symptoms are often accompanied by signs of depression, dehydration, and impaired physical or cognitive function. The misdiagnosis of these symptoms can prove fatal, as failure to thrive in adults, much like in children, has the potential to lead to death. It is, therefore, imperative to seek medical intervention immediately upon suspicion of adult failure to thrive.


Depression in Seniors

The absence of a sense of purpose can lead to mental health conditions such as depression in seniors. Chronic depression in this age group can exacerbate the appearance of being unmotivated. This is an issue that medical professionals must address.


Attorney Connelly emphasizes the importance of helping seniors maintain their sense of purpose, particularly in cases affected by Alzheimer's disease. The feeling of being increasingly dependent on others can be incredibly challenging and demeaning to them. Failure to keep this sense of purpose in place may result not only in dealing with Alzheimer's disease but also accompanying depression, which could make matters much worse for all concerned.


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Depression among seniors leads to health problems

Late-life depression affects approximately six million Americans over the age of sixty-five, but only about 10% will receive treatment. This is due to several reasons, including the belief that older people "slow down," and the symptoms are often dismissed as a function of aging. Additionally, older people have more illnesses, and the medications they take have side effects that may be similar to those of depression, allowing the symptoms to be explained away.


Depression in seniors is more than just a mood disorder. Clinical depression can lead to severe physical illnesses and an inability to heal appropriately following surgery or illness. Depressed older individuals are less able to rehabilitate, and studies of nursing home patients with physical illnesses have shown that the presence of depression increases the likelihood of death from illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that an older adult who may be experiencing depression is evaluated and treated, even if the depression is mild.


Older adults experiencing depression may exhibit symptoms such as feeling tired, having trouble sleeping, being grumpy or irritable, feeling confused or struggling to pay attention, not enjoying activities they used to, moving more slowly, experiencing a change in weight or appetite, feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty, enduring aches and pains, or having suicidal thoughts.


The Suicide Problem

The correlation between depression and suicide among older adults remains a critical issue that cannot be overlooked. Notably, depression significantly increases the risk of suicide, especially among older white men. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression in individuals aged 65 years and above is a significant public health concern. The suicide rate among people aged between 80 and 84 is more than twice that of the general population.


Moreover, Attorney Connelly affirms that the lack of purpose is a significant problem compounded by the other challenges of aging. Aging individuals begin to lose emotional and social support systems as their peers retire, move away, enter institutional care, or even pass on. Unfortunately, the reduction in support systems limits the number of people who can observe behavior changes, the onset of depression, and suicidal ideation, leading to delayed treatment and suboptimal outcomes.


A Final Word

Having a sense of purpose is essential for leading a fulfilling life. It gives direction, meaning, and motivation to our daily actions. However, many people believe that finding a sense of purpose requires a grandiose or complex goal, which is untrue. A sense of purpose can be as simple as finding joy in collecting items, tending to a garden, or helping someone in need. It could be as small as taking care of a pet or volunteering for a few hours every week. Whatever brings you happiness and fulfillment, which is your sense of purpose.


Attorney Connelly believes it doesn't matter when or how you decide to live a purposeful life as long as you do. "Everyone needs to find their sense of purpose and to pursue it with passion and dedication. Whether through your career, hobbies, or volunteer work, having a sense of purpose can make a significant difference in your life and those around you. Remember this mantra and let it guide you towards a more meaningful and rewarding life."


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Please note that the information provided in this blog is not intended to and should not be construed as legal, financial, or medical advice. The content, materials, and information presented in this blog are solely for general informational purposes and may not be the most up-to-date information available regarding legal, financial, or medical matters. This blog may also contain links to other third-party websites that are included for the convenience of the reader or user. Please note that Connelly Law Offices, Ltd. does not necessarily recommend or endorse the contents of such third-party sites. If you have any particular legal matters, financial concerns, or medical issues, we strongly advise you to consult your attorney, professional fiduciary advisor, or medical provider.

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