Saturday, August 1, 2020

Covid-19: Older Workers and Retirees can Lower their Financial, Emotional and Physical Risk

Across the United States in the spring of 2020, activities began shutting down because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Within months, schools, restaurants, bars, stores, offices and other businesses closed. Most people thought the closures would only last a few months.  By mid-summer, however, it became obvious that high unemployment and sporadic closures could continue until early 2021, or longer.

A great deal of attention has been paid to the effect Covid-19 has had on children, students, workers, and families.  However, very little attention has been paid to the significant effect it has had on people over the age of 60 ... both those who are already retired and those who were planning to retire in the next few years.

What are some of the ways this coronavirus pandemic has affected older Americans, and what can they do to minimize or repair the damage?

Financial Consequences of Covid-19

For many Americans who were planning to wait a few more years before they retired, the sudden loss of their job or business has forced them to stop working sooner than they planned.  Even if they were not forced out of their job, many are making the difficult decision to prematurely end a career such as teaching or sales, if it involves working long hours with the public.  This is especially true if they have underlying health conditions which could make them more vulnerable to Covid-19.  Unfortunately, just being over the age of 60 puts them at higher risk.  If they also are overweight, have diabetes, heart disease, chronic kidney disease, asthma or other health problems, they are at extremely high risk.

Being forced to stop working sooner than planned can result in both immediate loss of income as well as lower Social Security or pension benefits in the future.  In addition, the sudden forced retirement is happening at a time when interest rates and dividends are so low that it is hard to generate much extra retirement income from savings.

The best solution for those faced with an inconvenient early retirement is to find safe ways to earn extra money from home to supplement your retirement income.  For example, you could research how to become a contact tracer in your state, making phone calls from home to people who may have been exposed to Covid-19.  Or, you may be able to tutor children or teach lessons online.  If you are comfortable working with small groups of children, you may even tutor two or three children in their home, even if that means spending most of the time in their backyard.  Many parents are desperate for childcare and would welcome a former teacher or compassionate adult who is also able to help their children with distance learning a few hours a day.  Supplementing your income safely will help stretch your Social Security or pension benefits until you have the time to make necessary adjustments to your lifestyle.  Finding a way to work a little longer might also make it possible for you to postpone collecting your Social Security or pension benefits, which would increase your payments in the future.

If you are suddenly forced into full retirement or semi-retirement, you should not delay arranging a less expensive lifestyle for yourself, whether that means moving somewhere less expensive, getting rid of a car with high payments, or drastically cutting down on your discretionary spending. 

Health Consequences of Covid-19

Many people are talking about the "Covid 15."  By that they are referring to the 15 pounds they may have gained because they are eating too much and not getting enough exercise.  However, simply because you are not socializing or going to the gym, you do not have to give up your former health regimen.  If anything, you need it more now than ever before.

Make sure you keep your immune system strong by eating well-balanced meals at home, including both a healthy source of protein and an assortment of whole grains, fruits and vegetables throughout the day.  If job loss has substantially reduced your income, food pantries all over the country have stepped up to provide boxes of staples for anyone who needs it.  You may also qualify for food stamps (SNAP) or other programs which provide meals to senior citizens.  Contact your local Senior Center, Social Services Department, or Social Security Office for more information about available programs.  You may be able to apply online.

Start your day with a brisk walk around your neighborhood.  Set a goal of walking 30 minutes or more every day.  Wear a facemask and maintain a safe distance between you and other walkers. Most of them will be trying to keep their distance from you, too! Make it interesting by driving to new parks or trails where you can walk.  Once you return home, use stretch exercise bands or free weights to work other parts of your body, too. Scan through the guide on your TV to see if there are any exercise classes you can follow.  If not, there are some great exercise videos for seniors you may want to try.(Ad)

Make sure you keep up with visits to your doctor and dentist. Your doctor may offer video conference or telephone appointments, after sending you to a lab for any necessary blood tests.  Get any vaccines or other treatments recommended by your doctor.  Continue to see your dentist, but make sure they are following all the recommended guidance for protecting you from exposure to bacteria and viruses.  If goggles are not provided, you may want to bring your own goggles or safety glasses to help protect your eyes from being exposed to viruses in the air. Dr. Fauci recommends that everyone wear goggles or face shields whenever possible, in addition to your facemask. (Ad)

Any time you leave your home, wear a facemask, unless you have to remove it in order to have your teeth cleaned or for other essential reasons.  Keep a variety of cloth and surgical facemasks on hand, so you are always prepared.  Facemasks are an essential part of your plan to stay healthy during this pandemic. (Ad)

Emotional and Social Consequences of Covid-19

Another impact of Covid-19 on older Americans is how it has disrupted their social connections, often leading to loneliness and depression.  Churches, book clubs, Alcoholics Anonymous, and other groups which provide emotional, spiritual and social support are no longer able to meet in person. While religious services may be available online, for many people it is not the same when they are no longer able to see their friends in person.  In addition, because many younger adults fear they could expose their elderly parents or grandparents to Covid-19, they may have cut back sharply on their family visits.  As a result, retirees are often losing the support of both their friends and family.

Over the past few months, countless Americans have found themselves spending long periods of time alone, with little social interaction. In addition, millions of people have had a close friend or family member die during this period of time, either from Covid-19 or other illnesses.  They are grieving at a time when their friends cannot show up to comfort them.

In order to reduce your loneliness and depression, it is important that you reach out and connect with other people any way you can.  Take advantage of technology such as Zoom, Facetime, Skype or WhatsApp to video conference with friends, family, and club members.  Make it fun, by setting up your own refreshments, sharing funny stories, and asking for video tours of their homes.  My husband and I have been enjoying weekly Zoom meetings with our four daughters and their families.  Listening to their banter with each other, and seeing the projects they have been working on during quarantine, has brought our family closer.

When possible, carefully arrange in-person visits with a few people at a time.  Set up a few chairs outside your home or at a park, at least six or more feet apart.  Everyone should wear facemasks, unless eating or drinking.  If there is food, everyone should bring their own meal with them or do something simple, such as ordering separate pizzas and eating on paper plates which can be thrown out as they leave.  There is no reason not to enjoy in-person time with others, as long as both you and your guests are willing to be cautious, maintain a healthy distance, and wear facemasks.  Have a party and enjoy yourselves!

Clubs, churches, and other organizations can also benefit by holding carefully arranged outdoor meetings in parks or parking lots, where there is enough room for appropriate spacing.  It can be very comforting to see people in person.

Finally, find activities to keep your mind active.  There are many volunteer jobs you can do for political campaigns or charities which can be done from home. Crochet an afghan or make a quilt and donate it to an online raffle so your favorite charity can raise money.  Call people you think may be lonely and chat with them awhile. They will really appreciate the attention. Send notecards to old friends. Send birthday and anniversary cards. Make calls or send postcards to support your favorite politician. Keeping busy will make you feel relevant and necessary in the lives of other people.

Keep Balance In Your Life

Despite Covid-19 and the chaos you may feel going on outside your door, you can continue to be content and lead a balanced life, as long as you pay attention to your financial, emotional, social, spiritual and physical needs. It may take a little time to find the right balance, but with practice you can overcome most of the difficulties created by this pandemic.

If you are interested in learning more about where to retire, common medical issues as you age, Medicare, Social Security, financial planning, and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

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