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A diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis does not necessarily mean that an individual will not have a full and active life. However, many people with multiple sclerosis do eventually become sufficiently disabled that they are no longer able to maintain a full work load. Alternatively, many occupations are not suited to a person with mobility difficulties. Whatever the reason, when a person is forced into retirement at an early age, when their peers are at the peek of their careers, many adjustments need to be made.

Usually, the first adjustment is to acknowledge the need for retirement when one is in their 30’s, 40’s or 50’s. For example, society dictates that a person retires at a certain age, usually in the 60’s age group.

In the retirement process, a person gradually disengages from society, no longer plays the same role within the fabric of societal function. However, as with most societal 'dictates' many of the elderly are not yet ready to retire!

Also the mere act of retirement changes not only societal perspective on the value, worth and identity of the elderly...it also robs the elderly of a familiar identity. These similarities with the elderly are experienced by individuals who are retired due to chronic illness, with the exception that the majority of people are not ready either mentally or financially to retire.

For both the elderly and the disabled, identity or self concept is often effected greatly. For example, when people are introduced or introduce themselves...one's identity is often created by means of family relationship, career or occupation, as well as suburb or country of origin. These 'labels' all add to the overall information package contained in 'identity presented'...but also in self concept and identity.

So the elderly like ourselves face disengagement from active society - which can all too often become rejection = loss of income as accustomed to receiving during employment coupled with losses and changes to identity.

The big difference? Somehow, to others it seems 'natural' for these things to occur to the elderly as they 'move over' and 'relax more'.....to our families and communities, it is not all that acceptable and certainly not expected of folks in their 30's, 40's and 50's.

But, for all too many of our seniors, they are not ready either, because for many of the young at heart, and mentally active - they too feel like young spirits in aging bodies.

I do not know if there is a solution to changing our expectations towards designated age function...I wish there was...because then instead of putting the elderly and the disabled out to pasture, so to speak, they/we would be able to continue to utilize our skills and expertise, while providing the combined wealth of our knowledge gained through years of experience.

Unfortunately, it is humanity in action, which focuses on the weakness of others rather than to encourage and utilize their strengths. Many people overcome their feelings of loss or sense of worth by volunteering to help others. Many take up hobbies long since discarded due to the hectic pace of employment.

Regardless, of what pursuit chosen, retirement for the young and the young at heart can be a fulfilling and rich experience. While, a spouse is no longer able to fully assist with the financial side of the relationship, many couples find a new opportunity for deepening bonds and enriching their relationship, simply because there is more time to talk, more time to listen.

Many parents may feel guilt at not being able to provide their children with the trappings of life. However, a parent who is now able to spend time with offspring for listening and hugging, can offer more than the parent who needs to rush out of the house.

Regardless of the age, retirement is an opportunity for reinventing ourselves, a time to realize that past employment or careers, are what we did for a living, not who we are. As with all life changes, it is a process which may at times be painful emotionally, but well worth the effort.

Our lives after retirement are like they were before, exactly what we make it to be. While it is necessary to acknowledge and grieve for the losses in life, dwelling on what is lost, robs one of the opportunities to grow and develop what remains.

Finally, it is of great benefit to remember that we only pass this way once, the legacy of love, joy and a helping hand, far outweighs all the degrees, awards and achievements acquired in a lifetime, to those who love us.

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