I was convinced I would become an adult when I turned 21. But now, I’m certain that turning 65 was the watershed moment that finally grew me up.
I’m pleased as pomegranate punch to be 65 — and alive. Not just alive and breathing, but actively engaged in making the right choices about this next chapter.
“We enter this phase of life without a playbook or anything equivalent to institutions like elementary school and college that prepare youth for adulthood,” said James Firman, CEO of the National Council on Aging, who turned 65 two years ago. “There’s really nothing to prepare us for the transition to this next phase of life.”
My playbook on preparing for life after 65:
- Consider enrolling in Medicare Part A, to cover hospitalization expenses. It works for me because my family is still covered under my wife’s health care plan.
- Double up on checkups. My annual visit to my primary care doctor evolved into a biannual visit. “Age 65 is a time to proactively visit a geriatric physician instead of just going when you’re in trouble,” said Dr. Ardeshir Hashmi, director of the Center for Geriatric Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. “Don’t wait until things get to a point where you’re in a cycle of being in and out of the hospital all the time.” Starting at age 65, he said, these visits should last longer than the standard 20 minutes — so older patients have time to discuss what’s on their minds. Older patients who do this regularly tend to require “minor tweaks” instead of major repairs, said Hashmi.
- Schedule annual visits to the dermatologist, ophthalmologist — and visits every five years to the gastroenterologist. “Establishing a coordinated care team becomes more important at 65,” said Jean Setzfand, senior vice president of programs at AARP.
- Take the leap and sign up for long-term health insurance. My wife and I finally did after putting it off for years. Remember, it’s a lot easier — and cheaper — to get when you’re younger than 65.
- Stick to a vaccine regimen. Vaccines are important again. I’ve since received my first pneumonia vaccine. My doctor also told me to get the new shingles vaccine, Shingrix, because I developed shingles about five years ago.
- Evaluate your diet. I have mostly stopped eating red meat, except for the very occasional burger. I now opt for meals mostly composed of fruit, veggies and my new diet staple that I used to gag on as a kid: salmon.
- Bone up on Social Security. I attended a free county-funded seminar at the local library. Then, to discuss my personal needs, I met (for free) with the same volunteer who led the seminar.
- Challenge your financial plan. I changed financial advisers — based on recommendations from trusted friends — because my portfolio really matters now.
- Serve your community. I bumped-up my volunteer schedule to once a week instead of once a month at a local food pantry. I also volunteer every other week at a local homeless shelter on the 5 p.m.-to-midnight shift. I’ve most recently started to volunteer at an equestrian therapy center for kids with mental or physical handicaps. Each of my volunteer gigs reflect my personal interests.
- Stay active. I extended my daily exercise routine from five days to seven. I now swim at least five days a week; take our dog, Shadow, for 45-minute walks twice daily; and hit the weight room at least twice weekly. I also play Wallyball (a fast-moving form of indoor volleyball where the walls are considered inbounds) every week with friends who are equally motivated to stay in shape.
- Stay flexible. I learned to stretch my back muscles an extra long time before beginning any strenuous exercise. When I forget, I inevitably pay for it.
- Look to the future. I initiated “adult,” end-of-life conversations with my kids that I wish my parents had had with me.
- Get your paperwork in order. I not only updated my will but I filled out a “Five Wishes” end-of-life pamphlet created by the Aging With Dignity nonprofit group; and I got very specific, in writing, about where I want my ashes to be scattered.
- Stay connected — and not solely to devices. I stopped taking my friends for granted, banished past grudges and re-established contact with a best buddy from college whose friendship I’d foolishly let slip away.
Age 65 is when many of us realize that we’re mortal. “This is when we start thinking about our next 20 to 30 years,” said Hashmi. “It’s when we ask: How can I be smart about investing my remaining decades wisely?”
Eric Tyson, author of “Personal Finance After 50 for Dummies,” theorizes that one of the most powerful undercurrents of turning 65 is how it affects the working lives of so many Americans. It’s when the majority go from working full time to working less — or not working at all, he said. “The best scenario is when this change can unfold over many years instead of all at once.”
It has for me. Things started changing at age 62, when I took a buyout from USA TODAY, where I’d worked for 20-plus years as a marketing reporter. I’m now a freelance writer and media training consultant.
So, at 65, the one thing I’ve opted to put off for at least a few years is retiring. While 65 still remains the most common retirement age, more and more folks are breaking that tradition, said AARP’s Setzfand.
Call it living with purpose.
Turning 65 is not just an extension of middle age. It’s a new life chapter that’s waiting to be written. “It’s a new stage of life that reminds us we don’t have forever,” said Firman. About a decade ago, at age 56, Firman had a quintuple bypass operation. His father, grandfather and uncle all died of heart disease in their 40s and 50s.
Firman isn’t distraught over the family genes he inherited. Instead, he’s celebrating his survival. When he turned 65 two years ago, he said, he had a realization that the real purpose of aging is to make the world a better place. “Life is a gift,” he said. “Success in old age starts with an attitude of gratitude.”
It seems Firman and I share one common trait: We both grew up at 65.