Daily Archives: October 13, 2010

Retirement and Brain Health

My brain health lifestyle ® advocates remaining integrated and involved with personally relevant roles across your lifespan. Retirement, defined from a traditional sense, suggests the opposite and seems to advocate a withdrawal from society, a tendency towards isolation and passive existence. Surveys indicate baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) will not rely on the traditional form of retirement and instead will redefine their roles several times as they get older. This is most likely a very positive sign from a brain health perspective.

My thought is that an active and stimulated brain is healthy. Studies in animals have shown the relationship between socialization and mental stimulation and structural and functional brain health. There have also been plenty of studies to show a similar relationship in humans. While there is not a cause and effect, we should not underestimate the value of the relationship.

A recent study published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives suggests that the earlier people retire, the more quickly their memory ability erodes. Data was gathered from the United States and 11 European countries as part of an NIA study that began 20 years ago. 22,000 or more Americans 50 years of age and older were surveyed every two years and administered memory tests. This led Europeans to do their own surveys using similar questions so the data could be compared.

The memory test measured free recall of a list of 10 nouns immediately after presentation and then again 10 minutes after they were first presented. Respondents in the United States scored an average of 11/20 while those in Europe recalled less. The authors of the study noticed large differences in the years people retired. In the U.S., England, and Denmark, retirement 65 to 70% of men were still working in their 60s. In France and Italy, the figure is 10 to 20% and 38% in Spain.

Researchers found a direct relationship between percentage of persons in a nation who are working at age 60-64 and their performance on memory tests. The longer people in a country keep working, the better, as a group, they do on tests when they are in their early 60s.

More work is needed to better understand the multiple factors that can play a role in this significant relationship. However, it appears clear that work remains a positive aspect or function to health as we get older and fits with the idea that remaining integrated and involved with personal meaningful roles is beneficial to brain health