You are as old as you let yourself be

Being a Retiree/Senior Citizen

When I retired from the public service many of my friends told me that I was being promoted Senior Citizen. I was comfortable with the idea and concept. I did not have any other option anyway for there is a fixed retirement age in the public sector.

This title of Senior Citizen denotes a form of respect in society to a person above a certain age. In Mauritius there are about 180,000 senior citizens (including a hundred plus centenarians) in a total population of some 1.3 million. Mauritius is one of the few African countries that has a real welfare plan for its senior citizens with provision through the Protection of the Elderly Persons Act for the protection of the elderly people from ill-treatment, sickness, financial inadequacy, harassment, etc.

With the pension benefits: lump sum and the monthly pension under the Defined Benefit Pension Scheme, and the statutory Basic Retirement Pension coupled with the related benefits like free bus travel, health and welfare programmes, a senior citizen can lead a retired life with dignity in this country.

However, this stage of life does not appear to be pleasing to everyone reaching compulsory retirement age. I have met many retirees across the island, people I had befriended during my years of service in the public sector, and chat with them over a cup of tea or a beer. More than 60% of them gave me the impression that retirement was a bane, a scary state, something that they would have avoided, delayed or postponed for ever were it possible so as to maintain their living standards, to keep up with the trend of life they were used to, to meet (unfinished) financial commitments – loans for house construction, children’s study, for the wedding of children and/or to meet commitments of a sick spouse/family member, etc.

I did not argue with any of them on the issue. They were most probably doing the right things particularly when financial security was their biggest worry. They are on a constant lookout for prospective employment. A few of them have taken jobs and postponed their effective retirement.

But the thing that we cannot postpone is ageing and eventual death. It is simply natural that we are growing older every moment and will die one day. This is unlike what happens with primitive life forms, such as bacteria which live on through fission, or the hydra with its regenerative ability, allowing them to avoid dying of old age. It is further documented in scientific literature that there are factors known as gerontogens, including substances in the environment, that can accelerate the ageing process.

This process brings with it a host of physiological and perceptual changes, which are a matter of concern for the senior citizen. Biomedical literature abounds with research findings about how the physiological functions decline with age. Ageing may be simply reflected by lower metabolic rate, lessened physical activity, dental problems or gastrointestinal changes (like lactose intolerance), loss of appetite, changes to the sense of smell, taste and hearing. But more strikingly are the functional and aesthetic changes in the skin with symptoms like depigmentation and the formation of wrinkles, forehead frown lines, spider veins on face and neck, age spots on the face and hands. The skin becomes leathery and laxity occurs. (There is a big business of creams, and other cosmetics products to defy the ageing of the skin.)

I picked up the brains of a retired orthopaedic surgeon on the changes to bones and joints during the ageing process. He was very clear about the loss of calcium and other minerals from the bones making them more brittle and prone to break easily. Changes in joints leading to inflammation, pain, stiffness, deformity, posture and gait (walking pattern) are common with ageing. Movement slows and may become limited. Strength and endurance change. Muscle weakness contributes to fatigue, weakness, reduced activity tolerance and reduced reflexes.

But you are as old as you let yourself be. Your dreams are as expansive as you let them be. As a senior citizen and retiree, start doing things you promised yourself you would do some day before frailty and mental decline take over.

Take time to exercise to slow or prevent problems with the muscles, joints, and bones and to maintain strength, balance, and flexibility; eat a well-balanced diet; find something you can do daily, such as tending a garden, caring for a pet, volunteering, or starting or continuing a hobby; learn new things: cuisine, photography, scrapbooking (years of photos and memorabilia can be compiled); become a writer (a former colleague wrote a novel after his retirement); travel and discover new wonders, fight the exclusion, keep in touch with family and friends; adopt IT, enjoy the little things which more often we tend to dismiss in life. Enjoy the chirping of the birds (a good friend of mine has spotted and directed me to a huge tree on Saint Jean Road, Quatre Bornes, where there is wonderful chirping of birds morning and evening, it is akin to a prayer), the smell of the flowers, and all of nature’s beauty.

Happiness is rarely for ever; retirement (senior citizenship), illness and death are part of life’s journey. Do not ever think you are alone; there are many like you on the road, help yourself lead the life of a remarkable retiree proud of having served diligently and now promoted Senior Citizen.

And remember ‘people who help themselves God helps them too’.

 

 

  • Published in print edition on 14 August 2015

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