How Retirement Affects Cognitive Decline

To those who are currently working hard to survive and even advance in their careers, the prospect of retirement holds out an appealing carrot to keep pressing on until the milestone is finally attained. 

cognative decline

The prospects of extended vacations, bonus time with loved ones, and the discovery of new hobbies offer great incentives to persevere until we make it.

But the retirement milestone can be a stressful one - and thus, “a potential trigger for cognitive aging,” according to a 2021 article in The Journals of Gerontology, authored by researchers at the University of Cologne in Germany, and the University of California at San Francisco.

Researchers interviewed almost 9,000 European retirees who were aged 50 and older and lived in 17 different countries.  Each person completed six memory assessments over a period of 13 years.

Their findings: Retirement was generally associated with a moderate decrease in word recall and memory decline “accelerated after retirement.” This was true in all countries.

cognitive 2

Studies - even those countries with more generous welfare systems and higher pension benefits - like Germany, Austria, France, and Belgium - as opposed to countries with lower public pensions, like Portugal, Greece, Israel, Estonia, Poland, and Slovenia.

Postponing retirement, studies have shown, can protect against cognitive decline, particularly among the more highly educated.  Still, we might as well admit it, life is short.  For those who are able and want to retire on time, below are four tips for staying mentally sharp while enjoying the happiest season of life.

1) Keep (or get) connected.

A quarter of Americans ages 65 and older are socially isolated, according to a 2020 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. While loneliness is miserable, it’s also more: It poses a health risk as deadly as smoking a dozen cigarettes a day

connect with people

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy recently told attendees of Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference. Retirement often means the loss of the community you worked in, perhaps for decades. Keep connected to others by taking classes, volunteering, hanging out with friends, or picking up a sport.

2) Keep active.

It’s never too late to begin an exercise routine—even if you didn’t pre-retirement, or if you fell off the wagon at some point. Having been physically active at any point in adulthood, “to any extent,” is associated with better cognition later in life—though those with a lifelong habit of exercising see optimal results, according to a recent article in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry.

seniors stay active

Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity—or 75 minutes of vigorous activity—a week, per the recommendation of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

3) Keep stress to a minimum.

There are many ways to keep stress at bay. A few of them are:

  • Sexual activity. Studies show that those who have sex less frequently report higher levels of stress.
  • Sleep. It’s well documented that quality sleep is protective against cognitive decline—and a host of other health issues including depression and obesity. Aim for seven to nine hours a night, according to the National Institute on Aging. If sleep is a struggle for you, talk to your doctor—a sleep study may be done in order to get to the root of the issue.
keep working
  • Budget. Do your best not to introduce any new stressors in your life. For the most of us, this will require keeping a budget. If you don’t have one, you’re not alone—and it’s never too late. A financial advisor can help you establish one and determine how much money you truly need to live on—not just how much you think you need.

4) Keep working.

Here’s the deal: Maybe you’re in a situation where you don’t need the money from a 9-5 job and yet you still have just as much to contribute to society as the day before you retired.  You might consider volunteering, or contract work, or maybe a part-time job in a field that brings you great satisfaction - regardless, perhaps, of pay.

You will receive the advantages of connected ess and cognitive acuity, with the typically accompanying work = hopefully without all the stress.

By some planning and preparation, your retirement years can be the best and most rewarding years of you life!

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