Study: Postponing Retirement May Protect Against Dementia

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Many of my friends are already looking forward to retirement. They look forward to relaxing, enjoying hobbies and generally puttering around their house. I don’t necessarily feel the same way and find that I enjoy having things to do that are for a bigger purpose than my own enjoyment (although I do enjoy what I do professionally). And I’ve also seen my parents struggle with finding a purpose in retirement. In fact, it was less than 10 years after closing her small business (a fabric store) that my mom began experiencing short-term memory loss.

    While admittedly Mom may have been predisposed to developing dementia based on her family’s history, her family members tended to develop it much later. And Mom smoked like a chimney, which also didn’t help her brain. But still, I always wondered if work had served as an exercise regimen for her brain since she had to socialize (selling), do math (count out change and kept the books), conceptualize (help people decide what fabric to buy and what pattern to use that would look great on them). She also managed a staff, handled advertising and solved problems (such as fixing broken sewing machines). Plus she did a lot of exercise by walking most of the day and toting fabric bolts around the store.

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    And new research does seem to indicate that people who delay retirement are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. The study out of France involved nearly half a million people in that country. The researchers from INSERM, the French government’s health research agency, found that for each additional year a person works, he or she reduces the risk of getting dementia by 3.2 percent.

    These researchers used the health records of 429,000 self-employed people who were shopkeepers or craftsman. The study subjects were an average age of 74 and had been retired for an average of 12 years.  Their analysis found that approximately three percent of the study subjects had developed dementia. However, they also found that the age of retirement made a difference. For instance, a person who retired at 65 years of age was about 15 percent less likely to develop dementia when compared to someone who retired at age 60.

    While this study obviously promotes the merits of work in protecting the brain, it also offers lessons for those who are retired or gearing back their lives. These include:

    • Do activities and hobbies that engage various parts of your brain. You may have something you’re especially good at. For instance, in my case it’s writing. But I try to do other activities that use different parts of the brain, such as geocaching (which is a high-tech treasure hunt).
    • Take classes on new areas of interest. Many cities have options for coursework, whether through community education, a senior center or a community college. Use these to do something to stretch your brain!
    • Stay mentally engaged through socializing. It’s easy to get isolated, but find ways to interact with people. One option is volunteering. Another is to take a class. You also can follow the lead of some of my retired friends who meet on a regular basis for coffee.
    • Travel to new places. That could mean going a different route to a usual haunt or doing a day trip to a near place. Or you can take off for an adventure to a different country. The novelty of what you’ll experience will fire up your brain synapses!

    As we age and head into retirement, it’s easy to slide into a comfortable pace and set ways. However, this isn’t the best thing for your brain. Staying cognitively engaged – either through continuing to work or through an active retirement – can serve as a buffer against developing dementia.

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  • Marchione, M. (2013). Study: Later retirement may help prevent dementia. The Big Story.

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Published On: July 16, 2013