After a career spanning many continents, many years and thousands of clients, retirement should have been a well deserved break for R Kumar. He had made the right investments, had saved enough and was financially more than comfortable, and he could look forward to a stress-free life doing things that he had no time for while he worked. But things did not quite go that way and Kumar found himself unsettled and far from contented. He had trouble making new friends, began to shun company and his family found him irritable, indifferent and often forgetful.
What Kumar did not know was that he was showing typical symptoms of Retirement Syndrome — the psychological inability to let go the position of authority and having problems adjusting to the new role. A workaholic and one who enjoyed considerable clout at work, Kumar found himself no longer in control of things as he had once been.
People who have enjoyed positions of rank and privilege and who have to give them up (CEOs, senior armed forces personnel, politicians) when they hang up their boots are likely to be maladjusted to their slower paced post-retirement lives. This type of adjustment disorder is now seen in an epidemic proportion, more so since family support and social dynamics are not geared up to help the individual any more. While certain types of personalities are more prone to this adjustment disorder, men are more vulnerable to it.
Why does this happen?
This happens usually because they are only geared up to deal with work stress. They have stayed away for too long from family and domestic matters and are unable to make any sense of it or make changes and compromises. Their social circle was limited to the workplace but post retirement they have to interact with a variety of people. They are unable to forge new friendships/relationships with people who have ‘nothing in common’ with them.
They are no longer the decision maker or the person in control. They are newcomers to an environment that runs efficiently without their inputs. Suddenly, they find they have too much time and very little to do. They find reading, gardening, walking or developing another hobby ‘unproductive’.
Unlike at work, they do not know what their role is in the family. They find themselves a part of a unit that is functioning efficiently without any inputs from them.
If they move to another city post retirement, that is an added challenge to someone who already has an adjustment disorder.
What to do?
Severe cases of retirement syndrome can lead to depression and often suicidal thoughts. Therefore, counselling helps them re-orient their identity and responsibilities to accommodate the changing roles. An understanding family and support from old and new friends greatly facilitates this transition.
Wives are not exempt. Retired Husband Syndrome (RHS) is a psychosomatic stress-related illness often seen in women whose husbands have just retired. Their interferences and attempts to dominate domestic affairs can be a cause of stress to the women.
Dr Rahul Padmanabhan is a Coimbatore-based consultant in Geriatrics and Gerontology and medical director of Dr Rahul’s Elder Care. Email firstname.lastname@example.org