The Silent Killer Among American Retirees

Source: Getty Images An epidemic among the elderly

Its negative health effects are equal to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, being an alcoholic, or never exercising. And it is twice as bad for retirees as obesity. But almost no one talks about this silent killer in retirement.

What is it?

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Source: Getty Images Your priorities will change in retirement

In 2013, Merrill Lynch and Age Wave (MLAW) conducted a study asking pre-retirees what they would "miss most about work when they retire." By an enormous margin, "a reliable income" was the most popular answer.

Then the researchers followed up by asking a group of currently retired folks what they missed the most about work. While "reliable income" was still high on the list, the responses were otherwise starkly different.

Continue to see the silent killer among retirees.

Source: Getty Images Dissolving social networks

The variables "social connections," "having purpose," and "mental stimulation" in the MLAW survey account for 65% of the most regrettable losses retirees face in their post-work lives. That tells us there's a glaring contrast between what we think is important in retirement while we're still working and what's actually important once we reach that stage.

Continue reading to see how to insure against the silent killer.

Source: Getty Images Personal relationships are vital

The majority of retirees say their enjoyment depends more on whom they do an activity with than on what they're doing. If the choice is between golfing alone or cleaning up trash with your kids and grandkids, most retirees will gladly throw on a pair of gloves and collect litter.

That's one aspect of what MLAW defines as "The New Social Security": "the value [that] social relationships [add] to mental and even physical health, [which] has been shown through numerous studies."

There were two other significant findings for soon-to-be retirees regarding this "New Social Security."

Continue reading to see two additional major findings.

Source: Getty Images Keep friends and family close

First, if you're married, you're likely to get the most pleasure out of being with family -- including your kids and grandkids.

However -- and this is a key difference -- for those who were single (divorced, separated, widowed, or never married), time with friends and time alone are most valued.

What does this mean for your finances? Continue reading.

Source: Getty Images Plan for a happy and healthy retirement

If you take the advice of current retirees and learn from their experiences, you know that living near family and friends is vital to your physical and mental health in retirement. There are a number of steps you can take -- financially -- to help make this a reality.

For one, if you live far away from family, start doing your homework now to figure out what you need to do to sell your house and buy a new one near your family. Make sure you discuss what boundaries will need to be set if this is a brand-new living situation.

If your best friends and your family live in totally separate areas, start budgeting for travel. The same MLAW study found that 77% of retirees have done "hardly any" planning for their leisure activities over the next five years. By planning ahead, you can prioritize money spent on travel to maintain healthy social connections with those you care about.

Retirement planning is a complex process. Often, we prioritize making sure we have enough money to maintain a similar lifestyle in retirement. But the fact of the matter is that our lives change markedly once we enter retirement. Understanding this can help our pre-retirement planning match our true priorities in our golden years.

Keep reading to learn about five Social Security rules you should know by heart.