Retirement and the Osteoarthritis Factor

When you need help, and you will, who will be there for you?

Jim Fixx was a baby boomer guru. His best-selling books extolled the virtues of running, preaching that an active lifestyle extended life and the ability to enjoy it. For most of us, that is true. Sadly, for James Fixx, in 1984 at age 52 he died on a Vermont country lane while on a solitary run.

Felled by a massive heart attack, two of his coronary arteries were sufficiently blocked to warrant a bypass operation. There are lessons in the Jim Fixx story applicable to your 2013 resolutions.  Guys are notorious for ignoring warning signs. We are slow to seek medical advice, until nagged into action by those who love us, or a serious condition arises.  The lesson—get a complete physical in 2013. Screenings for a wide range of conditions are getting better. Denial is a river in Egypt but not a prescription for good health, whether male or female. Diagnostics—colonoscopies, prostate screenings, mammograms—are important.

If alive, Jim Fixx would be age 80 and by now most likely would have had a knee or hip replacement. The running craze started because with the decline in manual labor, we are not exercising our joints as once we did. The downside is that running and active sports like tennis and basketball are hard on aging joints, especially knees and hips. The consequence is soaring demand for artificial joints to prolong an active life.

Per WebMD, several decades ago the majority of joint replacement surgeries had as the driving cause rheumatoid arthritis, a disease for which treatment has improved substantially. Now the leading reason for joint replacement is osteoarthritis, caused largely by trauma and wear and tear on the body.

On December 14, 2012, yours truly joined the trend, having a total left knee replacement delivered by Santa Surgeon, aka, Dr. Ken Kress at Resurgeons in Atlanta. A new knee for Christmas, I learned, is not a day at the beach. Recovery is a painful and dedicated process at which one must work if a good outcome is desired.

Babies are cute but they also are messy and demanding, requiring constant care. Unless we die quickly like Jim Fixx, the odds are that we will at times be “baby like,” needing care just to accomplish the basics—eating, dressing, bathing, toileting, transferring. The first week or so after a knee replacement is brutal, and one needs help. I am fortunate that my wife is a dedicated and patient caregiver. You, dear reader, need to think about that. When you need help, and you will, who will be there for you?

Are you nurturing that relationship so that he or she will respond with love and compassion when you are a baby again—not cute, but messy, somewhat or completely helpless, demanding and impatient with your newfound restrictions?

Living longer has a downside, with the rising cost of healthcare and caregiving. Have you built realistic estimates of healthcare costs into your retirement budget? If you are single, widowed or divorced, who will be your caregiver? What plans have you made relative to powers of attorney for assets and healthcare and advanced directives? Have you had a conversation with your spouse, the adult child, relative, or dear friend who will step in? Have you considered Long Term Care? The average cost of a semi-private nursing home room rose by 3.7% in 2012 from 2011 to $222 daily. Assisted living rates rose 2.1% to $3,550 per month. (Source: MetLife Mature Market Institute). Long term care is not covered by Medicare.

A knee replacement may contribute to an on-going active life, but it is major surgery. It is painful and requires a caregiver, if only for a time. It may be the key to the go-go phase of whatever you define as retirement. During the recovery, you get an inkling of what the slow-go and no-go phase of retirement may be like.  Have you thought about that aspect of your life’s journey?


Lewis Walker is President of Walker Capital Management LLC and Walker Capital Advisory Services, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor (R.I.A.) Securities and certain advisory services offered through The Strategic Financial Alliance, Inc. (SFA).  Lewis Walker and Mike Hostetler are registered representatives of SFA which otherwise is unaffiliated with the Walker Capital Companies.

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