Old is gold: But are you prepared for the third age?

Although acknowledged, old age is one of the least talked about topics in modern-day society.

The “golden years” of adulthood is generally defined as the span of time between retirement and the beginning of age-imposed physical, emotional, and cognitive limitations, which today would roughly fall between the ages of 65 and 80 beyond.


This period of adulthood comes with fewer responsibilities than the previous years albeit its possibilities for self-fulfilment, purposeful engagement, and completion heavily depends on the available financial resources as well as physical and mental health.


Start young


When 53-year-old Agnes Mukarutabana, a businesswoman, looks back at her life after graduation, everything that happened was a result of random decisions. Old age to her seemed like a lifetime away, but lucky for her, her goal was to be financially independent, and so she recognised the right moves by learning from her mistakes.

Her biggest lesson, however, is that every minute of breath counts and before you know it, life is taking a turn to the third age. Therefore, taking the time to intentionally consider the kind of old person you hope to become one day can dramatically alter the paths your life takes.

“One of the biggest lies young people believe is that “there’s still time”. If the third age for you still feels like a lifetime away and you stand by without making plans, then you may be in for a shock. Do the most important things now, when you are young and energetic,” Mukarutabana says. 

In your 20’s, your energy is at its peak and your brain is sharpest, the right time to work on the things that you have control over, ensuring that you preserve your physical health. And don’t wait to pursue that advanced degree at an advanced age because it might not be of use in your sunset years,” she says.

Additionally, it is never too early to start preparing yourself for a future of financial independence after retirement. The best time while at it is the day you get your first paycheck.

“Purpose to set aside money for your mid- and long-term financial goals. Travelling the world or buying trendy things are necessary for your growth, but should not get in the way of planning for your retirement,” Mukarutabana says.

Plan and maximise your retirement

After years of hard work, fulfilling responsibilities and raising a family, retirement should be one of the most rewarding chapters of your life, says John Munyangeri, a retired teacher. However, retirement can be a horrible financial nightmare if one has not planned properly for the golden years. 

“Retirement is not the end of life, in fact, life after your nine to five job only ushers you into the next chapter of life where one has to make ends meet like everyone else. Only this time, your savings and investments determine how easy you can pull it off,” he says.

He adds that the concern should go beyond whether one can afford to retire, and also how mentally prepared one is to retire. While the thought of not having to get up early for work every morning can be fascinating, it can also leave some people depressed if they are not looking forward to anything to wake up to. 

“It is crucial to retire to something — not from something. Before retirement, plan thoroughly about how you’ll fill your days. Engage and stay physically active as “old” is just a state of mind.”

Silas Muhwezi, an accountant in his 40s, also says that while many people look forward to their pension, the income could be way below what the pensioners used to earn before retirement, as the currency appreciates over time. He believes that how you manage the seemingly large sums of money also matters.

“It is possible for pensioners to lead a much lower quality of life than they did during their active years, which is why early investments are very important as you do not want to pay off home mortgages, unsecured loans, or credit card debt in your golden years, he says.

Health preparedness

Everybody desires to be energetic and pain-free their whole lives, but while some people look great and move easily; other people who are about the same age are obviously frail.

While the majority of the advice shared centres around finances, it can only be made easy in good health.

According to Alphonse Semuhungu, a general practitioner, self-care which entails physical fitness, quitting smoking, drinking in moderation, eating healthy and drinking plenty of water, will not only enable you to enjoy all your financial benefits, you’ll also increase the amount of time you can remain independent and physically strong.

“Maintaining a healthy lifestyle from young adulthood into your 40s is strongly associated with low cardiovascular disease risk in middle age, and as a matter of fact, how you take care of your health as early as your 20s greatly affects your old age.

“It’s however, not just your physical health you need to look after, taking care of your mental health also helps prevent depression and slows down dementia,” he says. 


How much effort you put in relationships today has direct bearing on whether you end up miserably alone when one day all your children are gone.

Jackline Iringaniza, a counsellor in Kigali, says the modern trend of ‘self-reliance’ has made it seem normal to be lonely and this could affect how people live in their golden years.

Today, people think money is all they need and do not care about cultivating meaningful relationships with friends and family. They have totally lost context of each other and with nothing in common to keep them together which has also contributed to many divorce rates.

“Companionship gives you a sense of belonging, promotes better mental health, better physical health, creates new routines, and just makes life better.  You do not want to imagine yourself alone in your sunset years. It can lead to depression and even send you to an early grave,” she says.

Live one day at a time

We cannot entirely minimise all the challenges that come with ageing. Even those who fight to look younger eventually break down because you can’t control everything. Scientific advances aren’t likely to eradicate decline in physical and mental function, either, as we get older.

However, in a generation that has accumulated vast wisdom and experiences, and as the fight for emancipation from traditional career and society obligations continues, our golden years increasingly have the potential to be the best years of our lives.

Plan and prepare for what you can, relax and enjoy your third age without regrets.


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