Second-Career Plans Scuttled by Illness

Alzheimer's disrupts a police chief's dream of opening a barbershop.

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Unplanned retirement - Spencer Johansen

Spencer Johansen, 50, a small-town police chief in Lexington, Ill., wanted to open a barbershop once he became eligible for his pension at age 55. But his plans changed in August 2006 when he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. For now, he is continuing his work as police chief and wears a Palm organizer on his belt while in uniform to help him remember appointments. A neuropsychologist keeps close tabs on the progression of his disease. But Johansen knows he will be forced to retire when he becomes unable to do his job. "I guess it's not a rosy picture of retirement," he says. "There's no way to prepare for the possible diagnosis of any disease."

Johansen will take in half his current income from disability insurance payments and Social Security disability when he retires. But that will do little to finance college for Johansen's youngest daughter, who will be a freshman at Lincoln Land College in Springfield, Ill. He also recently moved into the four-bedroom home of his wife's family so he and his wife could sell their house.

"I can't predict what this is going to cost my family down the road," Johansen says. "My wife and family have to deal with this more than I do." Copays for his medications alone typically cost $90 a month. And home health aides to help with care can average $152 a day, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Even the cheapest care option, adult day center services, averaged $61 a day in 2007. Says Johansen: "I just put as much money in savings as I possibly can."

This blog post is part of an ongoing series of stories about people who retired (or will soon) while they were making other plans. If you'd like the story of your unplanned retirement featured in an upcoming post, please write me at and include your phone number. Or you can discuss your story in the comments section.