Bursack: How do I motivate Dad to make his retirement enjoyable?

Carol Bradley Bursack, Minding Our Elders columnist. Special to The Forum
Carol Bradley Bursack, Minding Our Elders columnist. Special to The ForumSpecial to The Forum

Dear Carol: Two years ago, my long-widowed, basically healthy dad, age 66, abruptly decided to retire saying that he was tired of the pressure at his accounting business. That sounded good, but retirement isn’t going well. Dad's financially secure but has no life. Once a sharp dresser, he now wears the same sweats for days. He rarely goes out. For example, he used to enjoy buying groceries because he enjoyed people but now he has groceries delivered. When I ask him about any of this he says that the little things like grocery shopping are just an annoyance so he’d rather hire them done. That would be fine if he did something else, but he just vegetates. How do I motivate him to make retirement enjoyable? — BJ.

Dear BJ: You’re right to be concerned. Your dad may have eliminated work stress, but leaving work without a purposeful plan left a vacuum. The result seems to be lethargy, loneliness and possible depression. All can be major health risks.

I’d suggest that your dad see his doctor to make certain that any health issues are controlled and to check to see if any medications could be causing lethargy. His doctor may also want him to see a mental health specialist to make certain that he’s not experiencing clinical depression.

If all is well, what he may respond to is something that can help him feel needed by others and provide a sense of purpose. You can help by looking into volunteer organizations that could use his skills. He’s likely to resist the idea at first, but if you do some research and leave the printed results around his home, he might eventually warm to the idea.

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Options to try

  • The Small Business Administration’s SCORE program: This SBA program pairs people like your dad with others who need a mentor while starting up their business. The website to check is www.score.org/volunteer.
  • The Senior Corps program: This federal program coordinates several types of volunteer opportunities for seniors and is now highlighting on their website the health benefits that volunteering seniors reap. The website for general information is www.nationalservice.gov/programs/senior-corps.
  • Tax help: Your dad could look into organizations that help people with their taxes. Even the IRS has volunteer opportunities and your state might have one through their CHIP program.
  • Other considerations: Service organizations such as the Lions Club help countless people in their communities and across the country. Additionally, your local senior center can use volunteers and will also offer opportunities to socialize. Think about your dad’s lifelong personality. If he was social before he retired, he might be open to one of these suggestions. If he simply needs a push to go out and see some friends, a group of retired business professionals who meet for coffee regularly might be all he wants. It's a matter of what suits his needs. It does sound like he would benefit from gentle intervention, though, so start with a health checkup and go from there.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carolbradleybursack@mindingourelders.com.