Friday, 11 February 2011 19:45

Health in the Third Age: Pre-retirement Programmes

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It is increasingly being recognized that the last third of life—the “third age”—requires as much thought and planning as do education and training (the “first age”) and career development and retraining (the “second age”). About 30 years ago, when the movement to address the needs of the retired began, the average male employee in the United Kingdom, and in many other developed countries as well, retired at the age of 65 as a rather worn-out worker with a limited life expectancy and, especially if he was a blue collar worker or labourer, with an inadequate pension or none at all.

This scene has been changing dramatically. Many people are retiring younger, voluntarily or at ages other than those dictated by mandatory retirement regulations; for some, early retirement is being forced upon them by illness and disability and by redundancy. At the same time, many others are electing to continue to work long past the “normal” retirement age, in the same job or in another career.

By and large, today’s retirees generally have better health and longer life expectancies. Indeed, in the United Kingdom, the over-80s are the fastest growing group in the population, while more and more people are living into their 90s. And with the surge of women into the workforce, a growing number of the retirees is female, many of whom, owing to longer life expectancies than their male counterparts, will be single or widowed.

For a time—two decades or longer for some—most retirees retain mobility, vigour and functional capacities honed by experience. Thanks to higher living standards and advances in medical care, this period continues to extend. Sadly, however, many live longer than their biological structures were designed for (i.e., some of their bodily systems give up efficient service while the rest struggle on), causing increasing medical and social dependency with ever fewer compensatory enjoyments. The goal of retirement planning is to enhance and extend enjoyment of the period of well-being and ensure to the extent possible the resources and support systems needed during the final decline. It goes beyond estate planning and the disposition of property and assets, although these are often important elements.

Thus, retirement today can offer immeasurable compensations and benefits. Those who retire in good health can expect to live another 20 to 30 years, enjoying potentially purposeful activity for at least two-thirds of this period. This is far too long to drift about doing nothing in particular or rotting away on some sunny “Costa Geriatrica”. And their ranks are being swelled by those who retire early by choice or, sadly, because of redundancy, and by women, too, more of whom are retiring as adequately pensioned workers expecting to remain purposefully active rather than to live as dependants.

Fifty years ago, pensions were inadequate and economic survival was a struggle for most of the elderly. Now, employer-provided pensions and general welfare benefits supplied by government agencies, although still inadequate for many, do allow a not too unreasonable existence. And, because the skilled workforce is shrinking in many industries while employers are recognizing that older workers are productive and often more reliable employees, opportunities for third-agers to get part-time employment are improving.

Further, the “retired” now form about a third of the population. Being sound in mind and limb, they are an important and potentially contributory segment of society which, as they recognize their importance and potential, can organize themselves to pull much more weight. An example in the United States is the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), which offers to its 33 million members (not all of whom are retired, since membership in the AARP is open to anyone aged 50 or over) a broad range of benefits and exercises considerable political influence. At the first Annual General Meeting of the United Kingdom’s Pre-Retirement Association (PRA) in 1964, Lord Houghton, its president, a member of the Cabinet, said, “If only pensioners could get their act together, they could swing an election.” This has not yet happened, and probably never will in these terms, but it is now accepted in most developed countries that there is a “third age”, comprising a third of the population that has both expectations and needs along with an enormous potential for contributing to the benefit of its members and to the community as a whole.

And with this acceptance, there has been a growing realization that adequate provision and opportunity for this group is vital to social stability. Over the last few decades, politicians and governments have begun to respond through extension and improvement of the variety of “social security” and other welfare programmes. These responses have been handicapped both by fiscal exigencies and by bureaucratic rigidities.

Another, major, handicap has been the attitude of the pensioners themselves. Too many have accepted the stereotyped personal and social image of retirement as both the end of recognition as a useful or even deserving member of society and the expectation of being shunted into a backwater where one can be conveniently forgotten. Overcoming this negative image has been, and to a degree still is, the main objective of training for retirement.

As more and more retirees accomplished this transformation and looked to fulfil the needs that emerged, they became aware of the shortcomings of government programmes and began to look to employers to fill the gap. Thanks to accumulated savings and employer-provided pension programmes (many of which were shaped through collective bargaining with unions), they discovered financial resources that were often considerable. To enhance the value of their private pension schemes, employers and unions began to arrange for (and even offer) programmes providing advice and support in managing them.

In the United Kingdom, credit for this is largely due to the Pre-Retirement Association (PRA) which, with government support through the Department of Education (initially, this programme was shunted among the Departments of Health, Employment, and Education), is being accepted as the mainstream of retirement preparation.

And, as the thirst for such guidance and assistance has grown, a veritable industry of voluntary and for-profit organizations has come into existence to meet the demand. Some function quite altruistically; others are self-serving, and include insurance companies that wish to sell annuities and other insurance, investment firms that manage accumulated savings and pension income, real estate brokers selling retirement homes, operators of retirement communities seeking to sell memberships, charities that offer advice on the tax benefits of making contributions and bequests, and so on. These are supplemented by an army of publishers offering “how-to” books, magazines, audiotapes and videotapes, and by colleges and adult education organizations that offer seminars and courses on relevant topics.

While many of these providers focus primarily on coping with financial, social or family problems, recognition that well-being and productive living are dependent on being healthy has led to the increasing prominence of health education and health promotion programmes intended to avert, defer or minimize illness and disability. This is particularly the case in the United States, where employers’ financial commitment for the escalating costs of health care for retirees and their dependants has not only become a very weighty burden but now must be projected as a liability on the balance sheets included in corporation annual reports.

Indeed, some of the categorical voluntary health organizations (e.g., heart, cancer, diabetes, arthritis) produce educational materials specifically designed for employees approaching retirement age.

In short, the third age has arrived. Pre-retirement and retirement programmes offer opportunities both for maximizing personal and social well-being and function and for providing the necessary understanding, training and support.

Role of the Employer

Although far from universal, the main support and funding for pre-retirement programmes has come from employers (including local and central governments and the armed forces). In the United Kingdom, this was in large part due to the efforts of the PRA, which, early on, initiated company membership through which employees are provided with encouragement, advice and in-house courses. It has, in fact, not been difficult to convince commerce and industry that they have a responsibility far beyond the mere provision of pensions. Even there, as pension schemes and their tax implications have become more complicated, detailed explanations and personalized advice have become more important.

The workplace provides a convenient captive audience, making the presentation of programmes more efficient and less costly, while peer pressure enhances employee participation. The benefits to the employees and their dependants are obvious. The benefits to the employers are substantial, albeit more subtle: improved morale, the enhancement of the company’s image as a desirable employer, encouragement for retaining older employees with valuable experience, and retaining the good will of retirees, many of whom, thanks to profit-sharing and company-sponsored investment plans, are also shareholders. When workforce reductions are desired, employer-sponsored pre-retirement programmes are often presented to enhance the attractiveness of the “golden handshake,” a package of inducements for those accepting early retirement.

Similar benefits accrue to trade unions who offer such programmes as an adjunct to union-sponsored pension programmes: making union membership more attractive and enhancing good will and esprit de corps among union members. It should be noted that interest among the trade unions in the United Kingdom is only beginning to develop, primarily among the smaller and professional unions, like that of the airline pilots.

The employer may contract for a complete, “pre-packaged” programme or assemble one from the list of individual elements offered by organizations like the PRA, assorted adult educational institutions and the many investment, pension and insurance firms that offer retirement training courses as a commercial venture. Although generally of a high standard, the latter have to be monitored to be sure that they provide straightforward, objective information rather than promotion of the provider’s own products and services. The employer’s departments of personnel, pension and, where there is one, education, should be involved in assembling and presenting the programme.

The programmes may be given entirely in-house or at a conveniently located facility in the community. Some employers offer them during working hours but, more often, they are made available during lunch periods or after hours. The latter are more popular because they minimize interference with work schedules and they facilitate the attendance of spouses.

Some employers cover the entire cost of participation; others share it with the employees while some rebate all or part of the employee’s share on successful completion of the programme. While faculty should be available for answers to questions, participants are usually referred to appropriate experts when individualized personal consultations are needed. As a rule, these participants accept responsibility for any costs that may be required; sometimes, when the expert is affiliated with the programme, the employer may be able to negotiate reduced fees.

Pre-retirement Course


For many people, especially those who have been workaholics, separation from work is a wrenching experience. Work provides status, identity and association with other people. In many societies, we tend to be identified and to identify ourselves socially by the jobs we do. The work context that we are in, especially as we grow older, dominates our lives in terms of what we do, where we go and, particularly for professional people, our daily priorities. Separation from co-workers, and a sometimes unhealthy level of preoccupation with minor family and household affairs, indicate a need for developing a new frame of social reference.

Well-being and survival in retirement depend on understanding these changes and setting out to make the most of the opportunities they present. Central to such understanding is the concept of maintenance of health in the widest sense of the World Health Organization definition and a more modern acceptance of a holistic approach to medical problems. Establishment of and adherence to a healthful life style must be supplemented by properly managing finances, housing, activities and social relationships. Preserving financial resources for the time when increasing disability requires special care and assistance that may increase the cost of living is often more important than estate planning.

Organized courses which provide information and guidance may be considered the keystone of pre-retirement training. It is sensible for the course organizers to realize that the aim is not to provide all the answers but to delineate possible problem areas and point the way to the best solutions for each individual.

Topic areas

Pre-retirement programmes may include a variety of elements; the following briefly described topics are the most fundamental and should be assured a place among any programme’s discussions:

Vital statistics and demography.

Life expectancies at relevant ages—women live longer than men—and trends in family composition and their implications.

Understanding retirement.

The lifestyle, motivational and opportunity-based changes to be required over the next 20 to 30 years.

Health maintenance.

Understanding the physical and mental aspects of ageing and elements of the lifestyle that will promote optimal well-being and functional capacity (e.g., physical activity, diet and weight control, coping with failing vision and hearing, increased sensitivity to cold and hot weather, and use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs). Discussions of this topic should include dealing with doctors and the health care system, periodic health screening and preventive interventions, and attitudes toward illness and disability.

Financial planning.

Understanding the company’s pension plan as well as potential social security and welfare benefits; managing investments to preserve resources and maximize income, including the investment of lump sum payments; managing home ownership and other properties, mortgages, and so on; continuation of employer/union-sponsored and other health insurance, including consideration of long-term care insurance, if available; how to select a financial advisor.

Domestic planning.

Estate planning and making a will; executing a living will (i.e., the setting forth of “medical directives” or naming a health care proxy) containing wishes about what treatments should or should not be administered in the event of potentially terminal illness and inability to participate in decision-making; relationships with spouse, children, grandchildren; coping with constriction of social contacts; role reversal in which the wife continues a career or outside activities while the husband takes more responsibility for cooking and homemaking.


Home and garden may become too large, costly and burdensome as financial and physical resources shrink, or it may be too small as the retiree recreates an office or workshop in the home; with both spouses at home, it is helpful, if possible, to arrange for each to have his and her own territory to provide a modicum of privacy for activities and reflection; consideration of moving to another area or country or to a retirement community; availability of public transportation if automobile driving becomes imprudent or impossible; preparing for eventual frailty; assistance with homemaking and social contacts for the single person.

Possible activities.

How to find opportunities and training for new jobs, hobbies and volunteer activities; educational activities (e.g., completion of interrupted diploma and degree courses); travel (in the United States, Elderhostel, a voluntary organization, offers a large catalogue of year-round one-week or two-week adult education courses given at college campuses and vacation resorts throughout the United States and internationally).

Time management.

Developing a schedule of meaningful and enjoyable activities that balance individual and joint involvement; while new opportunities for “togetherness” are a benefit of retirement, it is important to realize the value of independent activities and to avoid “getting in each other’s way”; group activities including clubs, church and community organizations; recognizing the motivational value of ongoing paid or voluntary work commitments.

Organizing the course

The type, content and length of the course are usually determined by the sponsor on the basis of the available resources and expected costs, as well as the level of commitment and the interests of employee participants. Few courses will be able to cover all of the above topic areas in exhaustive detail, but the course should include some discussion of most (and preferably all) of them.

The ideal course, educators tell us, is of the day-release type (employees attend the course on company time) with about ten sessions in which participants can get to know each other and instructors can explore individual needs and concerns. Few companies can afford this luxury, but Pre-Retirement Associations (of which the United Kingdom has a network) and adult education centres run them successfully. The course may be presented as a short-term entity—as a two-day course which allows participants more discussion and more time for guidance in activities is probably the best compromise, rather than as a one-day course in which condensation requires more didactic than participative presentations—or it may involve a series of more or less brief sessions.

Who attends?

It is prudent that the course be open to spouses and partners; this may influence its location and timing.

Clearly, every employee facing retirement should be given the opportunity to attend, but the problem is the mix. Senior executives have very different attitudes, aspirations, experiences and resources than relatively junior executives and line staff. Widely differing educational and social backgrounds may inhibit the free-wheeling exchanges that make the courses so valuable to participants, particularly with respect to finances and post-retirement activities. Very large classes dictate a more didactic approach; groups of 10 to 20 facilitate valuable exchanges of concerns and experiences.

Employees in large companies which emphasize corporate identity, like IBM in the United States and Marks & Spencer in the United Kingdom, often find it difficult to fit into the wide world without the “big brother” aura to support them. This is particularly true of the separate services in the armed forces, at least in the United Kingdom and the United States. At the same time in such tightly-knit groups, employees sometimes find it difficult to express concerns that might be construed as company disloyalty. This does not appear as much of a problem when courses are given off-site or include employees of number of companies, a necessity when smaller organizations are involved. These “mixed” groups are often less formal and more productive.

Who teaches?

It is essential that the instructors have the knowledge and, especially, the communication skills required to make the course a useful and pleasurable experience. While the company’s personnel, medical and education departments may be involved, qualified consultants or academicians are often considered to be more objective. In some instances, qualified instructors recruited from among the company’s retirees can combine greater objectivity with knowledge of the company environment and culture. Since it is rare for any one individual to be expert in all of the issues involved, a course director supplemented by several specialists is usually desirable.

Supplemental materials

The course sessions are usually supplemented by workbooks, videotapes and other publications. Many programmes include subscriptions to pertinent books, periodicals, and newsletters, which are most effective when addressed to the home, where they may be shared by spouses and family members. Membership in national organizations, like PRA and AARP or their local counterparts, provides access to useful meetings and publications.

When is the course given?

Pre-retirement programmes generally begin about five years before the scheduled retirement date (recall that AARP membership becomes available at age 50, regardless of planned retirement age). In some companies, the course is repeated every one or two years, with employees invited to take it as often as they wish; in others, the curriculum is divided into segments given in successive years to the same group of participants with content varying as the retirement date approaches.

Course evaluation

The number of eligible employees electing to participate and the rate of drop-out are perhaps the best indicators of the utility of the course. However, a mechanism should be introduced so that participants can feed back their impressions of the course content and the quality of the instructors as a basis for making changes.


Courses with uninspired presentations of largely irrelevant material are not likely to be very successful. Some employers use questionnaire surveys or conduct focus groups to probe the interests of potential participants.

An important point in the decision-making process is the state of employer/employee relations. When hostility is overt or just beneath the surface, employees are not likely to assign great value to anything the employer offers, especially if it is labelled “for your own good”. Employee acceptance can be enhanced by having one or more staff committees or union representatives involved in the design and planning.

Finally, as retirement approaches and becomes a way of life, circumstances change and new problems arise. Accordingly, periodic repetition of the course should be planned, both for those who might benefit from a rerun and those who are newly approaching the “third age”.

Post-retirement Activities

Many companies continue contact with retirees throughout their lives, often together with their surviving spouses, especially when employer-sponsored health insurance is continued. Periodic health screenings and health education and promotion programmes designed for “seniors” are provided and, when needed, access to individual consultations on health, financial, domestic and social problems is made available. An increasing number of larger companies subsidize pensioner clubs which may have more or less autonomy in programming.

Some employers make a point of rehiring retirees on a temporary or part-time basis when extra help is needed. Other examples from New York City include: the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, which encourages retirees to volunteer their services to non-profit-making community agencies and educational institutions, paying them a modest stipend to offset commuting and incidental out-of-pocket expenses; the National Executive Service Corps, which arranges to provide the expertise of retired executives to companies and government agencies around the world; the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), which has instituted the “Friendly Visiting Program,” which trains retirees to provide companionship and useful services to members beset by problems of ageing. Similar activities are sponsored by pensioner clubs in the United Kingdom.

Except for employer/union-sponsored pensioner clubs, most post-retirement programmes are carried out by adult education organizations through their offerings of formal courses. In the United Kingdom, there are several nationwide pensioner groups like PROBUS which holds regular local meetings to provide information and social contacts to their members, and the PRA which offers individual and corporate membership for information, courses, tutors and general advice.

An interesting development in the United Kingdom, based on a similar organization in France, is the University of the Third Age, which is centrally coordinated with local groups in the larger towns. Its members, mostly professionals and academics, work to broaden their interests and extend their knowledge.

Through their regular intramural publications as well as in materials specifically prepared for retirees, many companies and unions provide information and advice, often spiced with anecdotes about retirees’ activities and experiences. Most developed countries have at least one or two general circulation magazines aimed at retirees: France’s Notre Temps has a large circulation among third agers and, in the United States, AARP’s Modern Maturity goes to its more than 33 million members. In the UK there are two monthly publications for the retired: Choice and SAGA Magazine. The European Commission is currently sponsoring a multi-language retirement workbook, Making the Most of Your Retirement.


In the many developed countries, employers are becoming increasingly aware of the impact of the problems faced by employees with elderly or disabled parents, in-laws and grandparents. Although some of these may be pensioners of other companies, their needs for support, attention, and direct services may be significant burdens for the employees who must contend with their own jobs and personal affairs. To ease those burdens and reduce the consequent distraction, fatigue, absenteeism and lost productivity, employers are offering “eldercare programmes” to these caregivers (Barr, Johnson and Warshaw 1992; US General Accounting Office 1994). These provide various combinations of education, information and referral programmes, modified work schedules and respite leaves, social support, and financial aid.


It is abundantly clear that demographic and social workforce trends in the developed countries are producing increasing awareness of the need for information, training and advice across the whole spectrum of “third age” problems. This awareness is being appreciated by employers and labour unions—and by politicians, as well—and is being translated into pre-retirement programmes and post-retirement activities which offer potentially great benefits to the ageing, their employers and unions, and society at large.



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Part I. The Body
Part II. Health Care
First Aid & Emergency Medical Services
Health Protection & Promotion
Occupational Health Services
Part III. Management & Policy
Part IV. Tools and Approaches
Part V. Psychosocial and Organizational Factors
Part VI. General Hazards
Part VII. The Environment
Part VIII. Accidents and Safety Management
Part IX. Chemicals
Part X. Industries Based on Biological Resources
Part XI. Industries Based on Natural Resources
Part XII. Chemical Industries
Part XIII. Manufacturing Industries
Part XIV. Textile and Apparel Industries
Part XV. Transport Industries
Part XVI. Construction
Part XVII. Services and Trade
Part XVIII. Guides

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