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Advice For The Golden Years: 'Don't Ever Retire Mentally'

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Retirement can be an endless golf game or constant trips to the doctor, depending on a whole host of factors, including luck. But either way, it's a stage of life that's usually more difficult and expensive than people expect.

Tell Me More's series on end-of-life issues continues today, with a roundtable discussion at a retirement home in Washington, D.C.

The lively trio talking with Michel Martin features Gerry Elliott, 80, a retired congressional aide; Krishna Roy, 83, a retired economist; and Rhonda Nixon, 87, an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church.

Happily, two of the people say they still feel youthful. "Things really haven't changed," Elliott says. "I still feel like I'm 21."

Not everyone is so fortunate.

As a recent poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, suggests, many people still have an overly rosy idea of what the golden years will bring. Thirty-nine percent of retirees say their health is worse, compared with 13 percent of nonretirees' expectations for life after work.

Many people don't take into account financial obligations that hit long after they've settled into retirement, such as drug costs or the need for a personal caretaker.

Even seniors who plan for retirement often find that they haven't saved enough, an issue NPR covered in extensive detail last month.

None of the folks who talked with Tell Me More had expected the rapid rise of costs at their retirement home or the equally sharp plummet of their investments during the Great Recession. But even in flush times, as people are living longer and getting more medical care than they expected, they often find their savings run short.

Still, even in old age, money isn't everything.

Despite the challenges of managing finances, adjusting to a new environment and lifestyle, declining health, and the death of friends and family, these seniors' stories suggest there's hope for a peaceful, happy, and perhaps even joyful retirement.

Each of the seniors interviewed has tried to remain active and productive.

Elliott cites his vast range of interests and hobbies as an important part of staying youthful, while Nixon mentions that interacting with a variety of people, especially younger friends who could help her get out of the house sometimes, was key to her health. Roy extols both physical and intellectual exercises, and left listeners with the following bit of advice: "Don't ever retire mentally. Keep your mind alive."

People of any age would do well to follow their examples.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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