Monday, February 7, 2011

Reflections on retirement and aging from Mary Kay Burke

Although retirement is a distant concept for me despite my recent leap into my sixties, I have been immersed in retirement and aging for most of my career. My profession, healthcare with as specialty in aging and aging services, has revealed challenges to me largely unknown when I started in this field—and most of them weigh most heavily on women. As we ourselves look to retire or have already done so, we are faced with the task of going again where few generations of women have gone.

My current position as the CEO at a retirement community has opened my eyes. Though we are all living longer (and women outpace men again here) thanks to advances in medicine and the ability to manage some of the multiple chronicities of aging, the social issues remain. As we live longer, but not necessarily better, it is not unusual to witness four and sometimes five generations of families still alive.

Many women in their mid- to late seventies, retired themselves, sometimes have full caretaking responsibilities for a parent and sometimes two. Although there are some support services emerging for in-home care, none are flawless; they can be prohibitively expensive, sometimes unreliable and access is problematic, especially in areas not clustered around cities. While I have experienced that there are many sons and grandsons out there who dutifully and lovingly care for their aging parents, it is overwhelmingly the women who are the primary caretakers. Even daughters-in-law are more apt to step up when the care of an in-law is necessary.

Once again, as women, we are experiencing the same kinds of infrastructure issues that faced so many of us a generation ago with quality childcare. The pace of aging and its associated needs has galloped far ahead of the infrastructure available to meet the challenges.

I believe that change will be incremental—not great news for us boomers. However, each of us has a responsibility to be vigilant about the care of the elderly, not the least because that will be (or is) us. Get involved, read, lobby, learn, ask questions about your own care, and make sure your wishes are communicated to your daughter, son, spouse, partner, friend, lawyer and physician. Don’t sit still for threatened changes in Medicare and Social Security. Do they need a good hard look and maybe some re-tooling? Of course, but the needs of the elderly will only grow, not diminish.

Many years ago, Bertrand Russell commented that “old age is always ten years older than I am.” There will come a point where old age is now; we need to be ready


  1. Thanks for the tips, Mary Kay. Still find it hard to believe we are approaching this stage.

  2. I had the same reaction. How did this happen to us so soon?

    Mary Kay makes a very good point. We need to prepare.