How Waiting To Retire Could Keep Your Mind Sharper

Mature male worker is using a laptop in high end restaurant.
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If the chance to earn more money and build more savings isn’t enough motivation to postpone retirement, consider this: It could also be good for your brain.

See: Under 40? Adjust Your Retirement Savings Rate to Properly Cover What Social Security Won’t
Find: $1M Is No Longer the Standard Nest Egg — Here’s How Much Most Americans Think You Actually Need To Retire

Putting off retirement slows your rate of cognitive decline, according to a study from Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR). The study found that participating in the labor market until the age of 67 not only slows cognitive decline but also protects against cognitive impairment, such as that caused by Alzheimer’s.

“This protective effect appears to hold regardless of gender and educational or occupational attainment,” a press release accompanying the study found.

That doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly become smarter by postponing retirement. As the press release notes: “The beneficial effect is related to a slowed rate of cognitive decline rather than a boost in cognitive function.”

In other words, don’t start thinking you’ll be able to solve a Rubik’s Cube in under 30 seconds just because you stayed in the workforce a few years longer.

Retire Comfortably

Researchers at MPIDR based their findings on data they pulled from the U.S.-based “Health and Retirement Study,” which analyzed more than 20,000 Americans ages 55 to 75 who participated in the labor market at some point between 1996 and 2014.

The MPIDR team investigated how certain factors such as education, economic status, employment and health behaviors play into a person’s cognitive function, and how that function might be impacted by retirement.

“Our study suggests that there may be a fortuitous unintended consequence of postponed retirement,” researcher Angelo Lorenti said in the press release.

Another researcher, Jo Mhairi Hale, recently told the Next Avenue news site that the study’s findings are “absolutely substantial” — especially in terms of the type of work done, which doesn’t seem to matter as long as it engages the brain.

She pointed to activities that might not even involve working for pay.

“What if you retire at age sixty but you’re a grandparent and part of your daily activity becomes grandparenting?” Hale said. “Or you’re an active volunteer. Or you work part-time as a museum docent or whatever. Does that provide the same sort of protective effects against cognitive decline? I would guess that it does.”

Retire Comfortably

Even so, there is something especially stimulating about being in a work environment, according to Paul Irving of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging.

See: Nearly Half of Seniors Expect To Work After Retirement — But There Might Be a Better Option
Find: 14 Key Signs You Will Run Out of Money in Retirement

“Meeting other people and engaging with other people is stimulating,” Irving told Forbes. “Work can be challenging and can provide opportunities for learning. A changing environment requires adaptability and flexibility. I think that has consequences for brain health.”

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Retire Comfortably

About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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