Some say retirement’s greatest threat is inflation, the cost of adult children or the potential of getting ripped off. As financial professionals, we try to warn clients about these downsides to retirement life by suggesting ways to combat the rising cost of living, to keep Junior from squandering the family fortune, or to run away when something sounds too good to be true. Yet retirees face even greater threats, some of which never get discussed and are rarely planned for, including the loss of one’s ability to see, hear, taste, touch and smell.
When was the last time a client cancelled or rescheduled a meeting because of a 3-cent rise in canned peaches, they needed to pick up or drop off an incapable son-in-law, or they had a meeting come up with a charming snake oil salesman? On the other hand, if your practice is like mine, a week doesn’t go by without at least one appointment change because of a client’s eye, ear, nose, mouth, hand or foot problem. Much to my surprise, many new retirees still don’t realize that medical costs attributable to the three most common senses -- vision, hearing and dental -- are not covered by Medicare and can siphon much needed savings out of their retirement accounts if problems arise and persist.
I wish I could tell you I always discussed this issue with clients, but its significance has only come to light in recent years. As I have shared before, much of everyday life in retirement is like an iceberg, wherein a large portion of what takes place remains below the surface, or out of mainstream conversations and preparation. The more time I have spent engaging clients and prospects at my Naked Retirement workshops, the more I learn about retirement life. Last year I asked one group to discuss what their biggest retirement fear was. A woman in her early sixties replied, “Losing my hearing and the ability to enjoy my friends.”
I had never heard that response before, so I asked her to expand on her answer. “I’m losing my hearing in my right ear,” she said, “and have trouble following group conversations.” She put an exclamation point to the subject by saying, “I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t communicate with my family and friends!”
It’s an eye-opening perspective, to be sure, making it more important than ever to encourage clients to do things now instead of assuming that time and their five senses will be on their side throughout retirement.
In another situation, a client recently told me she’s no longer able to drive. At just age 67, she’s been denied the doctor’s note needed to renew her license because of declining vision, a bitter pill for a single woman living on the outskirts of town with few family or friends nearby to chauffer her around. Fortunately, there is a local shuttle service available; however, because of her location and the pick-up and drop of times at various locations, a simple trip to the grocery store can take her over five hours.
I can assure you that no one goes into retirement dreaming of spending a combined five hours on the bus and at the grocery store just to grab a few things, or constantly asking family and friends for a ride. Remember that kid in high school who always needed a ride and lived far away? That kid missed a lot of life, and the same might hold true for those who don’t consider access to services and supplies when planning their retirement location.
Another client of mine recently developed a vision problem that has left him unable to read, watch TV, or drive. As you might imagine, this has brought on a lifestyle change, and not only for him. When one spouse loses one or more of his senses, the other can become tethered to the one afflicted. Constant need and support, without any training or breaks, can create a frustrating relationship.
Possibilities like these make it critical that married partners be ready for retirement and everything that comes with spending more time together. A relationship put on the back burner for kids or careers can fall apart just as the finish line comes into view. For advisors, that may mean finding ways to encourage clients to move away from saving a big pile of money for regular travel during retirement, and encouraging them instead to spend money now on date nights and strengthening their relationship. Topics like marriage and losing their senses may not be every advisors cup of tea, which is why I suggest they use a regular newsletter or simple guide like I have developed, How To Prepare Your Marriage For Retirement, to raise awareness and educate clients on the evolving nature of life in retirement.
Dental problems are also common among the elderly, but seem to affect well-being less than loss of vision or hearing. Still, those pearly whites do tend to decline, which can have an impact on a retiree’s mood, appetite and weight.
Adjusting to dentures isn’t as simple as throwing a fancy new grate on your BBQ grill. New chompers usually require re-learning how to chew and taste. Altered textures can change the way food is perceived, which affects taste, appetite, and nutrition. Advisors with clients who love to cook, or have secret family recipes, should encourage them not to delay writing that family cookbook, and to start that Pierogi or sweet potato pie apprenticeship now. No client will ever taste the perfect retirement, but they can eliminate many regrets and lost possibilities with a little kitchen prep work.
Keep in mind, too, that a client’s sense of touch and smell will also erode over time. Touch, along with other physical capabilities, can be affected by arthritis or other diseases. Nothing alters retirement plans and dreams like a physical impairment. So many clients are sold on the idea that they will have 30 or 40 years of good health to enjoy their retirement and, then, BAM! A stroke changes it all. A client of mine, just two years into retirement, suffered such a blow. She and her husband were avid golfers, loved to dance and entertain, all of which was snatched away in an instant. Strokes, cancer and arthritis may take away a client’s physical abilities, but the mind and heart can be protected by preparing mentally and emotionally to deal with and overcome such challenges.
Consider the sense of smell, too. Odors and aromas can takes us back in time, revive the past, and help us recall pleasant memories of days gone by, all part of what we teach others to embrace and remember after we’re gone. Allergies, sinus infections, and medications can play a role in losing one’s ability to experience the fragrance of life. Advisors can encourage clients to start that family tree, write that personal memoir, or take their legacy planning to a new level with an ethical will. In each way, remind clients it’s important to reflect on the things they are grateful for, to share the things they have learned along the way, and to make sure they stop and smell the roses as they travel the many roads of retirement.
Too often, those in our profession, and our clients, underestimate the power of a touch, an amazing view, a lovely scent, a listening ear, or a mouth-watering taste. When we find ourselves caught up in the dollars and numbers, remember, most of us would trade it all to maintain even one of our incredible senses.
Just as all the music in the world stems from a mere five pitches, and five basic colors combine to paint every amazing sight we see, our five senses are truly what makes retirement such a pleasure: Making the reality of losing them the biggest risk retiree’s face.
Advisors looking for a way to share this emerging topic and relationship building opportunity with clients can click here for my list of things every retiree should touch, taste, hear, see, and smell at least one more time in retirement – a sense-filled bucket list if you will.
Follow Robert Laura on Twitter @robertlaura. He is the president of SYNEGOS Financial group, co-founder of RetirementProject.org, creator of the Laddered Dividend Portfolio and author of Naked Retirement. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.