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Retirement syndrome


Mr.Kumar wasn’t looking forward to retirement. His career spanned continents and meeting thousands of clients every year. He had reached peak of his career having served as the CEO of a multi-national company. He had financially planned everything for a comfortable retired life. After few months of retiring, he knew that something was wrong. He had trouble adjusting to the new life. His wife found him to be always irritated, disinterested and sometimes, forgetful. They moved into a gated community where he thought he would find interesting things to do. He was finding difficult to make new friends and often would spend time alone reading books or going for solo walk. The wife and children thought he might be depressed and asked him to seek help which further annoyed him.


Mr kumar is undergoing what is termed Retirement Syndrome. It’s the psychological inability to let go the position of authority and having problems adjusting to the new role. Work has become a natural habit for Mr Kumar, and it is difficult to accept any role other than that of dominance and power. It is type of adjustment disorder which is now seen in an epidemic proportion since family support and social dynamics are not there anymore to help.


Does all who retire develop Retirement Syndrome?


It is not that all who retire develop retirement syndrome. Certain job types and personalities are more prone to develop adjustment disorder after retirement.


  1. People who have enjoyed the role of authority like CEO and Managers, soldiers who have held high ranks in armed forces, politicians (if they have quit politics or made to quit!) are more prone to have retirement syndrome.

  2. People who have advanced in career fast and have enjoyed role of authority and dominance and have spent considerable amount of time in these positions

  3. People who retire suddenly from high posts

  4. People who have been staying away from family or didn’t play an active role in the family.

  5. Men have more problems adjusting to retirement than women


Why does it happen?


Feeling of nothingness is what most elders undergoing retirement syndrome admits to. People who have enjoyed positions of authority forget their innate abilities to adjust to stress other than that from work. Their social life is restricted to select circles who are not there when they retire.


  • Loss of control and position– Person with retirement syndrome often wants to continue commanding or be the decision maker in the house or among the friends and family circle. Inability to do so leads to rejection and isolation. They resist children or any other family member making decisions for them.

  • Too much time and boredom - People with retirement syndrome doesn’t know what to do with the extra time they have. While life moves on fast in corporate world, once they are at home, they find it difficult engaging in meaningful activities. The usual activities like reading books, gardening, going for long drives, taking a new hobby doesn’t interest them. Such activities are considered unproductive for them.

  • Inability to make new friends and companions - Making friends is different from making business partners or clients. People in leadership positions have excellent communication skills in breaking business deal and striking valuable partners. Their ability to make friends often gets lost. When they retire, they either find people too low for them to engage in any conversations or they are apprehensive of their ability to make friends.

  • Confused about roles and responsibilities in the family- Having been away from actively participating in decision making inside the family, elders with retirement syndrome often find it difficult to make decisions for the family. They either find such decision making silly or get confused overthinking about the problem.

  • Moving away from places of familiarity and social support to newer places – Retired elders often migrate to newer cities and communities in the hope of having a comfortable life. This often poses challenge to the elder who are already at the risk of adjustment disorder.


What happens to people with retirement syndrome?


Most of the people who undergo retirement syndrome do well after some time. This depends mainly on with whom they spend their time and timely help in form of counselling. They re-orient their identity and responsibilities to accommodate the changing role they assume. An understanding family and support from old and new friends greatly helps in this transition.


Some of them go into depression and needs more help in form of counselling and medications. Suicides are common in people with retirement syndrome.


Retired Husband Syndrome (RHS) is a psycho somatic stress related illness often seen in women whose husband has just retired or going to retire. Retired men try to find dominance and authority at home which has been crafted and perfectly managed by the wife. Finding a person at home who has never stayed at home and never interfered in day to day chores of the home is seen by the wife as something abnormal.


Does that mean that people shouldn’t retire?


Nobody retires, their work does. Studies have shown that retirees ( people who don’t work) have a shorted life span than people who continue to work even after their retirement age in some other capacity. Retirement doesn’t in any way mean that you become unproductive and meaningless. You can get engagement with life from working, but you can also get it from taking up causes, volunteering, pursuing hobbies, and contributing to your family and community.


How to prevent Retirement syndrome?


Retirement must be planned as an elaborate process.


  1. Retirement should be a phased process rather than an abrupt one. Continuing as an advisor and consultant to the same or different company at a reduced capacity and in a part time role will ease the ‘letting it go’ process

  2. It is not recommended to move into a new place soon after retirement, especially if you have a good social support at the existing place.

  3. Start investing time in hobbies much before retirement.

  4. Seek help from professionals if you think that retirement is stressful.

  5. Organizations on the other hand should plan the retirement of their employees in a better way. Pre- retirement counselling and support should be mandatory in every organization.


Dr Rahul Padmanabhan is a consultant in Geriatrics and Gerontology based in Coimbatore with more than a decade of experience in Elder Care. He is the medical director of Dr Rahul’s Elder Care - Coimbatore. He can be contacted through rahul@drrahulseldercare.com.Dr Rahul's Elder Care Provides comprehensive Geriatric care in coimbatore.

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