Cover Story

APA's Committee on Aging (CONA) has plans to ease people's trepidation about retirement. Through a "Road Map to Aging" it aims to enlighten the public--young and old alike--about changing, more positive conceptions of aging and retirement (see page 78, "A new face to retirement") and will advise people how to proactively plan for latter life stages.

Planned for release sometime next year, the road map will base its advice on psychological research that refutes ageist stigmas and present information about common experiences many people have as they age--such as a more active retirement--says John C. Cavanaugh, PhD, CONA chair and president of the University of West Florida.

For example, recent psychological research counters the stereotype that retirement necessarily means a dip in self-esteem and life involvement. Researchers Donald C. Reitzes, PhD, and Elizabeth J. Mutran, PhD, found that a person's preretirement self-esteem, pension eligibility and friend identity increased positive attitudes toward retirement at six, 12 and 24 months following retirement. The study appeared in 2004 in the International Journal of Aging and Human Development (Vol. 59, No. 1).

Such findings point to the importance of gearing up for a life that's just as active later as it is now--but perhaps in different ways, say CONA members.

"It's human nature to procrastinate on things we perceive to be far in the future," Cavanaugh says. "But CONA can put this information about normative aging out there for people so they know about typical experiences to help them plan."

The committee expects the road map campaign to include a brochure packed with user-friendly tips to effectively plan for aging and retirement--something that people are often scared to do because they mistakenly see their retirement as a sign their life is about to end, notes CONA member Toni Antonucci, PhD, a University of Michigan psychology professor and program director of the university's Life Course Development Program.

"I think of retirement as caught in a time warp: We have people aging healthily, but they don't have a plan about retirement because they think of how retirement used to be"--that is, as people "too old" to actively enjoy their later years, Antonucci explains.

With retirement now lasting as long as 30 years, CONA aims to counter outdated thinking by providing simple, functional tips that don't allow people to get stuck in their own ageism, Antonucci says. One tip, for example, is to realize that many people go through a transitional period during retirement, postpone it or even retire in stages by working part-time or pursuing volunteer activities as they age.

"Retirement is much less a point you can label in time and much more a process of self-definition," Cavanaugh says. "As part of the preparation for retirement, one needs to sit and ask, 'What am I going to retire to?' as well as, 'What am I retiring from?' Most people don't have a good answer to the first question."

But the road map--by showing normative actions like transitional retirement phases--will inform the public that a desire to continue working or to volunteer their free time is not abnormal, Antonucci adds.

"People want to do something that feels meaningful," she explains. "Not everyone wants to play golf their entire life."