I turned 75 years old. I know what you are thinking, "Wait, what?! How can that be? You look so good for your age!". I know, thank you. On a more serious note, I did experience how it feels like to be 75 at the recent 13th Asia Conference on Pensions & Retirement Planning organised by Asia Insurance Review and co-organised by Principal. And more people should for retirement planning to be taken more seriously. Here's what happened and what I have learnt from the experience.
Here's how it happened
I gamely volunteered to put on the "ageing suit" at the conference. Because "why not?".
It was fun putting it on and it looked really cool.
Weights in body vest and around the wrists to simulate loss of muscle mass, braces around the neck, knees and elbows for loss of mobility, foot wear for unsteady gait, ear muffs and glasses to simulate hearing loss and sight impairment. And the best one yet, gloves to experience tremors, realistically simulated by EMS impulses.
It was a piece of cake, at first
We suited up early. I had a chair at the side of the conference room to sit and wait before being called up on stage for the demonstration involving me. I remember thinking, "It's a piece of cake. How tough can this be?".
This was for a session on "Successful Retirement - Healthy Ageing and Financial Security" at the conference by Mike Mansfield, Manager Retirement Research, Aegon N.V. and Takaoh Miyagawa, Specialized Manager, Corporate Planning, Aegon Sony Life Insurance Company. The suit was courtesy of Leyden Academy on Vitality and Ageing.
And it was a piece of cake, in the beginning. Then I waited. And Mike began the session giving his presentation. I waited some more. And then I began to feel the weight of the vest more. My attention started to waver as I had trouble hearing and seeing what was happening on stage. More waiting. Then finally I heard my name. Relief!
I made my way unsteadily to the stage. Taking great care to climb the few steps to get up on the stage (I didn't want to embarrass myself by falling flat on my face in a room full of people, ageing suit or not!). I was asked to do a few simple day-to-day tasks. Such as pouring a glass of water and using the phone and taking a selfie. These mundane tasks which we do not think twice about became challenging and required focus and effort to complete. It was the first time I ever felt Twitter's 140 characters were too long!
Watch video of my experience here.
The point was made. People see retirement as an active stage of life. Globally, 82% of workers and retirees say their health in older age is a concern and 73% of workers feel personally responsible for making sure they have sufficient income in retirement. However, research from Aegon Center for Longevity and Retirement warns of an alarming disconnect between workers’ good intentions and their actual actions toward preparing for retirement.
More people should experience being 75
The messages have always been pretty consistent when it comes to pensions and retirement planning - start saving and investing early and put aside more for a comfortable retirement.
This is not another article to give you more statistics on why we should do the above. Because logically, people know we have to do it. But oftentimes, people just don't. And it is not hard to understand why. Retirement seems so far away. It feels like nothing will change other than the fact that we will stop working. It is hard to imagine how being aged feels like given that we are healthy and mobile right now. Which is why I feel more people should experience what I did, so they can put themselves in the shoes of their future selves, and give greater thought to their pensions and retirement planning. Because here's what I learnt:
It is going to be a lot harder than you think
Having experienced the effects of ageing, I can say that it was tough physically. Tougher than I thought it would be. But more important than that, I feel it is going to be even harder psychologically. I started tuning out while waiting at the side of the stage because I could not really hear or see what was happening on stage. Imagining myself in the shoes of an elderly, I can understand why some may prefer to retreat into their shells.
So it is important we get the message that retirement is not just an age when we stop working. Some people mistakenly believe that expenses will reduce tremendously in our golden years. But they may fail to factor in that it could also mean medical expenses could increase due to health or age-related issues. How about the need to get a domestic helper around the house as we may be too frail to do chores ourselves? The list goes on.
We may all need more than we think. It is important to speak with a professional adviser to work out a realistic plan.
Short-term pain for long-term gain
When it comes to making decisions related to long-term gains such as health - just like retirement - we are not very good at it. We tend to choose the short-term enjoyment rather than pain for the long-term good. Save for retirement or buy that dream car? Exercise or sleep in? We often make the easier choice.
It was a great experience in the ageing suit, but we also know that age is just a number. It won't be difficult to find many healthy and fit elderly who could put us all to shame. So now I'm even more committed to make better choices: that healthy diet and exercise regime so I can better enjoy my later years in the pink of health; and that retirement funding plan to make sure I have enough.
Some things are priceless
While money is important when it comes to retirement planning, there are plenty of things that have no price tags. As we go about making a living, let us not forget the things that money can't buy. Other than health, relationships will play a key role. And I can say this with a lot more conviction now with my experience in the suit. Loved ones will be the people who will be showing us care and concern and preventing us from retreating into our shells and feeling isolated in old age. So never forget the truly important things in life.
My wish is to live my life right, to be blessed with being surrounded by good friends and family. And I wish the same for you.
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