Monday, 29 October 2012

Cyber Retirement Communities – Are we Silver Surfers?

When I first started writing this book, nearly 13 years ago, the world was a simple place where words ruled over acronyms, twitter was the sound a bird made (or the behaviour of a twit) and computers were ugly grey blocks of plastic that responded obediently when prodded. Those days are gone...

As Bill Gates famously once said: 
“The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.”

13 years ago I worked from the assumption (largely based on my own computer knowledge) that Baby Boomers were essentially clueless about technology and wrote a glossary of terms, including words like ‘email’, ‘floppy diskette’ (yes I wrote ‘diskette’) and ‘scanner’. 

The World Wide Web Consortium estimated that the total number of people using the internet back in December 1998 was a paltry 147 million (3.6 percent of the world’s population) compared with more than two billion people in March 2011.

Despite these statistics, a disproportionately low percentage of Baby Boomers are reaping the benefits. A survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project in 2009 found that although Baby Boomers have started embracing the online world, with 70% of adults aged between 50-64 logging on, this figure drops to 38% in over-65s. This is a serious issue that needs urgent attention, particularly when you consider Eurostat’s findings that 63% of the over-65s who did embrace the internet felt that it helped them to connect with family and friends. 

Some countries have a more progressive approach with the Home Computing Network in Japan opening more than 300 specialised schools where the average age of students exceeds 60!

The term Silver Surfers makes me imagine a group of twenty-somethings brainstorming ideas for a marketing campaign aimed at internet users in later-life, when somebody ends up shouting ‘Senile Surfer!’ Everybody laughs before deciding that they might have to tone it down a bit, eventually settling on the more patronising ‘Silver Surfer’ which, incidentally, sounds like a geriatric superhero. 

I’m not a ‘Silver Surfer’. I’m an internet user who doesn’t need a fanfare or a gold-star whenever I manage to turn a computer on!

Monday, 22 October 2012

Will I Or Won’t I? – The Importance of Putting Your Affairs in Order

A leading consumer watchdog estimated that 60% of people die without making a will. While nobody likes dwelling on the prospect of their own death for too long (or speaking to lawyers), without someone trained and qualified helping you make sure you have jumped through all the relevant legal hoops, your assets will be divided according to state or federal law instead of your own wishes – it is your money after all, so it’s best to bite the bullet and get down to making a will
Some things to remember:
∙Take Scrooge-like care when passing on your wealth to your children – it’s understandable that you don’t want to be stung by inheritance tax, but make sure the legal safeguards are in place.
∙Always seek impartial advice – sometimes even your bank manager can be an ally if you catch them in a good mood
Remember that life is for living – leave room in your budget for fun, otherwise there’s just no point in having spent all those years working hard
Don’t let money create a feud between you and your loved ones – personal relationships are far more precious than pounds
However there can be some fun in making a will you could, for instance, insert a couple of unusual conditions – you may as well leave the world laughing, how about these for inspiration...
Celebrity jokers:
Napoleon Bonaparte specified that he wanted his head shaved and his locks divided equally among his friends – I don’t know about you but I’m not sure I’ll have enough to go around!
Robert Louis Stevenson tried to leave his birthday to a friend who complained that being born at Christmas meant that she never go enough presents
For the kids:
in 1862 a man called Henry Budd left £200,000 ($325,000) in a trust for his two sons on the condition that neither of them ever grew a moustache
Edith S of Walsall left £50,000 ($80,000) to each of her three children with the proviso that it should not be wasted on “slow horses and fast women and only a very small amount of booze 
Very lucky pets:
if Forbes magazine produced a rich list for animals, then the top-dog would most certainly be German Shepherd, Gunther IV, who inherited £92 million ($150 million) from an eccentric German countess in 2000
personally, my least favourite, because of my admittedly incredibly irrational fear of cats, is Jonathan Jackson of Columbus, Ohio, who dedicated his estate to the creation of a cat house. The house reportedly came complete with custom-made bedrooms, and gym, a dining hall and a music room
Having that final word:
Anthony Scott included the following sharp-tongued sentiment in his will: “To my first wife Sue, whom I always promised to mention in my will. Hello Sue!”
Prices for wills can vary greatly, but if you don’t want to be too out of pocket there are a lot of deals to be found with a thorough search on the internet – these include “2 for 1” offers for you and your partner – also look out for charity-led schemes which offer the opportunity to make a will for a discounted fee – the proceeds of which are then fed back into the charity.
Next week I will be discussing Cyber Retirement Communities – Are we Silver Surfers?

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Education: You Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

If you find yourself craving direction, focus and self-discipline in a context outside of the workplace, why not try dipping a toe back into education?
Even if you hated academia when you were young, it may well be rewarding to try again. A lot of the stress is removed when you’re studying by choice with no obligation to continue if you don’t enjoy it. And if you’ll allow me to get a little bit classical for a moment, once you give it a try you may end up thinking along the same lines as Seneca: ‘Retirement without the love of letters is a living burial.’
While conducting research for ‘Great Retirement, Great Sex,’ I interviewed Peter, who told me about his initially very difficult experiences of sudden retirement. Peter had worked for thirty years as a warehouse operative for a large retailer where he drove a mini-fork-lift, unloaded deliveries and unpacked boxes.
‘I turned down the move up to supervisor more times than I can remember.’ He always exceeded his targets and liked being exactly where he was.
But everything changed after an accident at work caused Peter to slip a disc and put him out of action in the business for good. He received more than £200,000 pounds in compensation. ‘I had to have a couple of operations privately and still might have to have another one. I don’t know how the wife has put up with it.’
Peter and his wife, Jane, preferred to be interviewed separately. Jane shed a lot of light on just how deeply Peter’s sudden change of circumstances had affected him. ‘He was popular, played darts in a local league and was always the comedian in the crowd, but after the incident his personality changed overnight. He would sit around the house and go quiet...’
He agreed he hadn’t exactly been at his most chipper after the accident, but turned the focus to the sudden change in outlook that occurred for him on the penultimate night of a surprise vacation to Andalusia that Jane had booked.
While unloading his troubles to a man named Geoff that he’d met at the bar that night, he began to view his prospects differently. Geoff provided the practical suggestion that Peter take some kind of course. Realising that he was so miserable he had to try something, Peter decided to give it a go.
 He enrolled on an engineering night class and despite having been ‘kicked out of more subjects than I passed at school’ found himself picking it up with ease.
He says that everything is different now: ‘after taking a few computer classes I decided that I wanted to try and get an engineering degree from the Open University. I would never have dreamed of doing something like that before, and I can tell you, I’ve had some funny looks when I tell people but it turns out that I’m not quite as hopeless as I thought.’
Whether you’re interested in returning to education to get some letters after your name or just to learn about a subject that has always interested you, there are several options:
The Open University offers 600 university-level courses in more than 60 subjects and you can distance learn from the comfort of your own home. The learning environment is a social platform too, through which you can make like-minded friends through joining online study groups.
If it’s actually predominantly the community element you’re attracted to, then the University of the Third Age could be for you. Yes, it may sound like a sinister new age cult, but it’s actually a great organisation made up of individual learning cooperatives around the UK. It offers a total of 300 subjects in fields such as art, life sciences, computing, and even walking.
There are a huge number of over 60s reaping the benefits of learning in later life. Decades of full-time work can lead to mature students having a more disciplined work ethic than others, so you could say now is the best time to learn!
The topic of my blog next week will be (don’t get too excited) the importance of putting your mind at ease by writing a will. It can be more fun than you think!

Monday, 8 October 2012

Sex: The Grey Taboo

While conducting research for my book, “Great Retirement, Great Sex (How to Retire and Still Have a Great Sex Life),” I, of course, spoke to many older people about their sexual experiences after retirement. I found myself hearing the same thing time and time again: no matter how old we get, physical intimacy more often than not continues to be crucial in our relationships. 

The problem isn’t that boomers aren’t enjoying great sex lives, or really that they themselves feel ashamed to talk about it. Rather, it’s that their voices and the consideration of their needs are being drowned out and ignored by the misinformed general public. Younger generations tend to push the myth that sex stops dead at some arbitrary age (which subtly increases as they themselves age, of course). Sorry relative younglings, but death doesn’t have to stop dead until death itself stops it. Not if we don’t want it to. 

Sadly, the more I’ve researched, the more I’ve learned just how widely taboo the idea of sex in later life is. This scornful attitude towards “over-age” sex perseveres despite the studies showing that older people are enjoying more fulfilling sex lives now than ever before. 

For instance, a 2007 study led by Dr Stacy Tessler Lindau looked at the sex lives of 3005 US adults aged between 57 -85. It found that between half to three-quarter of the participants remained sexually active, with many of them enjoying frequent and varied sex. 

Sexual psychotherapist, Dr Ivor Felstein maintains that there is no fixed point at which sexual desire dissipates. The oldest couple he consulted who were openly positive about their sex life were aged 91 and 89 respectively. I myself have also met couples of similar ages who weren’t exactly prudes either!

Yet society chooses to block out this detail about one of the fastest growing demographics in the world today, denying them their right to speak freely about sex. This is a great shame, as I think opening up about our sex lives is one of the most liberating experiences that we can share. I’m not talking about forcing the gory details upon anyone who doesn’t want to hear them – aka our children, religious congregations, the chap who’s come to fix the boiler...

Rather I mean that you should make sure your partner understands your needs and that you shouldn’t feel you have to pretend celibacy in order to preserve the delicate sensibilities of the ignorant majority. After all, the words of Alfred Kinsey, “The only unnatural sex act is that which you cannot perform.”

Even nailing down the definition of “sex” can be difficult. I believe that the focus should be on emotional and physical closeness combined, including things such as paying your partner complements, kissing, holding hands, and just generally maintaining regular physical contact between you. Surprisingly traditional for me, I know, but there you go!

A 2011 study by the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University gathered information about the sex lives of more than 1000 couples worldwide who had been together for at least 25 years. Couples were generally found to be happier the longer they had been together. Happiness was also higher in those who scored more highly on a sexual functioning questionnaire. Importantly, contrary to what you might think, this contact was predominantly described as “kissing and cuddling,” demonstrating the importance of intimacy in forming the foundation of our relationships. 

To enjoy a continuously deepening level of intimacy with your partner you have to draw on your bank of accumulated experience to enhance your play, rather than fall back on boring old habits. Above all, though, it’s really for both of you to decide what your definition of a satisfying sex life is. It should be about whatever you feel truly happy with. Sex is, after all, about enjoyment, especially when pregnancy is no longer a consideration. 

Next week I’ll be talking about going back to education in retirement. Rest assured, you most certainly can teach an old dog new tricks!

Monday, 1 October 2012

Your Perfect Retirement Picture

Bertrand Russell said that “To be able to fill leisure time intelligently is the last product of civilisation.” Lots of retirement books stress the importance of visualising the next phase of your life as a blank canvas with a palette of paints representing your various leisure activities, interests and commitments. I wouldn’t necessarily advise this, because it isn’t really like this at all.

You should, of course, already have some idea about your plans and your likes and dislikes. But you also shouldn’t be afraid to try new things that are out of your immediate comfort zone. 

Another way to think of your future is as a sliding tile puzzle and the end-picture as your perfect retirement. Half of the tiles are already filled with your current activities and the other half are like blank scrabble tiles. These ‘wild’ tiles, so to speak, can be filled in and moved around once you’ve begun to throw yourself into new things and find out what works for you.

It may be that your perfect picture is always shifting. That’s great. Many people find frequent change in retirement liberating after years of set routine. This new time gives you the freedom and autonomy to be spontaneous. 

If you feel like lying in when you wake up in the morning, you can. If you want to lounge around the house smoking cigars in nothing but a dragon-print kimono for a week, then I might question your taste in home casual-wear, but it’s still absolutely your call. 

What you do need to do is try to deal with the often unavoidable element of guilt that comes with your newfound liberty. Keep letting yourself know that you deserve this time, even if you have to say it out loud to yourself in the mirror!

I asked 30 retirees to try a quick word association exercise, writing down the words “work” and “leisure” in two columns and writing down their associations with each. The results revealed a surprising crossover. Words like “achievement,” “teamwork,” “responsibility,” “reward,” and “goals” appeared in both, as these are all integral to our feeling happy in whatever we are doing.

Whether it’s for work or leisure, the majority of people want to do whatever they’re doing well. However, years of nine to fiving has impressed upon us the idea that we’re somehow being lazy or unproductive if we’re not at a computer in a grey office building, drinking very bad coffee.

Activities in retirement that effectively satisfy the positive aspects of work (you know, the bits we actually miss) are the ones that will keep us fulfilled in the long term. So you may find that sleeping in and roaming around in a dressing gown can only provide relief for so long. Retirement is still a time for achievement. Though if you manage to truly relax during these activities despite the post-work guilt, you can definitely put this down as a win!

What you need is a healthy mix of interests. They can be easy or challenging; tried and tested or new and exciting. Just remember the words of John Lennon: “Time you enjoyed wasting was not wasted.” 

Next week I’ll be not-so-tentatively broaching the subject of “Sex: The Grey Taboo.”