Retirement: The good, bad and ugly

iStock 000006144317Medium(copy)(copy)New Zealand's superannuation scheme is one of the world's most generous, referred to by the Retirement Commission and Retirement Policy and Research Centre as a "national treasure" that vastly improves the lot of many of the country's elderly. Many New Zealanders depend on it as their only source of retirement income.
A person living alone receives $366.94 a week in superannuation (M tax code). Forty per cent of Kiwi retirees live on super alone, another 20 per cent earn up to $100 a week on top of that and another 40 per cent have still more money coming in.
The biggest difference between New Zealand's pension and its equivalents overseas is that it isn't means tested. Unlike Australia, you can save as much as you like, earn as much as you like and own as much as you like and you'll still get the same superannuation payments as your neighbours.
The SuperGold card gives retirees free off-peak public transport plus consumer discounts, and about half of retirees also have a Community Services Card for cheap health care, compared to about a quarter of the working-age population. This is an income-tested card, but doesn't factor in how much the recipient has stashed away in assets or in the bank.
Of course, statisticians may say our pensioners are not impoverished; that does not mean New Zealand retirees feel comfortably off or really happy with their lot.
The bad is one of the biggest things that knocks a happy retirement off course is sickness. Claire Matthews from Massey University says many people cancel private health insurance at 65 because it becomes too expensive, so they are sometimes stuck on public waiting lists for some time, in pain.
People over 65 represent about a third of Auckland hospital admissions, despite making up just 12 per cent of the city's population.
A Ministry of Social Development report found 40 per cent of people over 65 had hypertension in the past year, 30 per cent had rheumatism or arthritis, 22.8 per cent had back pain and 40 per cent had trouble walking significant distances.
The Massey University study found higher rates of hazardous drinking among New Zealand's retired population than in the US or in Brazil.
Mental health problems, too, can upset plans. The study found about 8 per cent of retirees are depressed. The poorer and lonelier they are, the more likely to be depressed.
The ugly part of this story is crime and abuse. Victim Support chief executive Tony Paine says police statistics show elderly people are less likely to be the victims of crime, but when they are, the effects are profound.
Elderly crime victims are more likely to move into a rest home earlier and have a shorter life expectancy, research shows.
"Crime destabilises your world." Paine says there is more fear of crime among the elderly, especially those who live alone, and that can be debilitating.
His organisation is also seeing more older people who have been the victim of fraud "or the loss of life savings in the grey area between fraud and badly managed investment". People had killed themselves after finding all their savings gone, he said. "It's becoming increasingly common."
Louise Collins, of Age Concern, says elderly people are more likely to encounter abuse from a family member than anyone else. Her organisation handles 1500 such cases a year, but she estimates 85 per cent of cases go unreported.
Adult children are the main offenders, using emotional blackmail and psychological abuse, often to get money out of their parents. "A lot of it is a lack of respect for older people."
What’s the message in all of this? Experts say: eat, drink and be merry – for tomorrow, you may be dead. Don’t isolate yourself. Work hard to engage with family, friends and the community. Stay as active as you can and keep working- as it is often regarded as therapeutic and socially engaging.