Postponing Retirement Slows Cognitive Decline, Protecting Against Alzheimer’s

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Working longer could do more than just secure you a bigger retirement portfolio — it may even be good for your health. According to a new study published by SSM Population Health Journal, continuing to work past the expected retirement age is protective against cognitive decline.

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Those who continue to work longer also show stronger thinking skills than their retired counterparts, shows the study by researchers from The Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science in Germany. The institute analyzed data from the U.S. Health and Retirement Study on more than 20,000 Americans ages 55-75 who participated in the labor market at some point between 1996 and 2014.

An important distinction, the effect is a slowed rate of cognitive decline rather than a boost in cognitive function, meaning that it does not provide any improvement in brain function, but rather slows down possible decay. Participating in the labor market until the age of 67 is protective against the kind of cognitive impairment that causes Alzheimer’s, the researchers said, adding that this protective effect appears to hold true regardless of gender and educational or occupational attainment.

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As the population increases in age, there is growing concern around the increasing prevalence in Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association states that by 2050, the number of people aged 65 and older with Alzheimer’s dementia could grow to a projected 12.7 million, barring the development of medical breakthroughs to prevent, slow or cure Alzheimer’s disease. But with no cure in immediate sight, it is all the more important to understand the influences on cognitive function over the entire life span, paying particular attention to modifiable risk factors.

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Angelo Lorenti, one of the researchers on the German study, stated that the researchers approached retirement and cognitive function from the perspective that they both come near the end of a long life. Factors like ethnicity, gender, early-life social and economic status, educational and occupational positions and even partnership status and mental and physical health “all accumulate and interact over a lifetime to affect both cognitive function and age at retirement.”

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Many countries all over the world have increased the retirement age, which is why it is so important to study cognitive function and the effect of older retirement, adds Lorenti. On average, retirees in the U.S. throw in the towel at around age 64, but the full retirement age to receive Social Security benefits is 67.

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Last updated: September 7, 2021


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