Could not retiring be hazardous to your health?

November 2, 2011; By: Audrey Miller
All About Estates

I read a recent article on older Canadians staying at work and not retiring due to economic necessity (Globe and Mail, October 27, 2011). This raises concerns on several fronts. While the article quoted from Statscan research that ‘older Canadians who have fully retired typically report worse general health and more chronic health conditions’ than their working counterparts, there may be health concerns for those that remain on the job.

Excerpts from The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety ( include the following:
As we age, the body loses some ‘range of motion’ and flexibility. People may be used to certain range of movements at one task or workstation. Being less flexible or able to reach could cause problems in some unpredictable situations that require unusual movements. People may find it harder to maintain good posture and balance.

Older people can’t regulate sleep as well as they used to. How long a person sleeps, and how well they sleep, can be disrupted by changing work hours or by light and noise. The impact on employees is especially a concern for older shift or night workers. They might need more recovery time between shifts or extended workdays.

Our bodies are less able to maintain internal temperatures as well as less able to adjust to changes in external temperature or due to physical activity. This change means that older workers may find heat or cold more difficult to deal with than when they were younger.

We cannot see or read from certain distances as well as we used to. This reduction in the “amplitude of accommodation” (the ability to see or adjust focus in certain distance ranges) is normally corrected with prescription glasses. Changes also occur in the peripheral visual field (how well you can see in the areas to the side of you, that you’re not directly looking at), visual acuity (how exact, clear, and “unfuzzy” things appear), depth perception (how far away things seem), and resistance to glare, and light transmission. These changes are normally not noticed by a person unless there is poor lighting or there are sources of glare. Someone might also notice that they can’t see as well when they’re reading something when text size is small, or when there is poor contrast between the text and the background. Brighter lighting (that is suitable for the task) and well laid-out documents which avoid small print are important.

We may not be able to hear as well at higher frequencies (high pitch sounds). Most often, this change is noticed as the inability to listen to a particular voice or sound in a noisy environment. As well, people who work with a lot of background or noise may have difficulty hearing verbal instructions. (Adapted from: Laville, A., et al. “Elderly Workers.” In the Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety 4th edition, International Labour Office, 1998.)

Accommodation is an important element for all employees but will become crucial for those of us continuing to work into our later years. Vision, hearing, mobility and stamina issues may be addressed proactively by having an ergonomic assessment of the work space with specialized seating, lighting, computer adaptations and software programs tailored to accommodate one’s needs.

– Whether you are an employer or employee, be alert to changing needs in your work place.

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