Fight Dementia — Don’t Retire

Retirement is considered a respite after decades of grueling work — but it may not be as good for us as we think.

Nearly 85 percent of people who are out of work say they’d like to return to some sort of job, according to Ursula Staudinger, a Columbia psychologist who focuses on life-span psychology. It’s not because they have to work — rather, they want to work.

“People who work later in life are less likely to develop dementia than people who retire earlier,” said one researcher.

Staudinger spoke at this year’s Age Boom Academy at Columbia University in New York in June, the Star Tribune reported. Among the topics the academy explored: Who can afford to retire, and is it reasonable at a time of rising longevity to increase the retirement age?

Perhaps the strongest message emphasized throughout the three-day workshop, however, was that work — beyond retirement — is often beneficial for physical, emotional, and cognitive health.

“There has been some data in the past few years showing that people who work later in their life are less likely to develop dementia than people who retire earlier,” said Dr. Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach at the Alzheimer’s Association.

“In general, as you age, activity is very good, whether it’s physical, social activity, mental activity — or, preferably, a combination of all of those things,” Dr. Fargo told LifeZette.

New research presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Toronto this week also showed the protective effects of a healthy diet and of staying busy as we age. New data was also shared on formal education and complex work — and how both may reduce the negative effects of bad diet and cerebrovascular disease on cognition.

Save Your Brain
  • Do regular cardio exercise.
  • Learn something new at all ages.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Reach a healthy weight.
  • Avoid head trauma.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Manage depression and stress.
  • Stay socially engaged.
  • Challenge, activate your mind.
Source: http://www.alz.org

In other words, the findings suggest that people whose work requires complex thinking and/or activities are better able to withstand the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. And working with people, rather than with data or physical things, contributed the most to the protective effect. Such jobs help us build up “cognitive reserve,” researchers stated, and protect our minds even when decline does start to happen.

Teachers, doctors, social workers, and those whose jobs involved mentoring others appear the most protected from Alzheimer’s, according to researcher Elizabeth Boots, who is with the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute.

“It’s not clear yet whether it can mitigate the risks associated with genetics — but certainly it can mitigate some risk,” said Dr. Keith Fargo of the study.

Jobs that appear the least protective in terms of cognitive decline include cashiers and machine operators.

“These new data add to a growing body of research that suggests more stimulating lifestyles, including more complex work environments with other people, are associated with better cognitive outcomes in later life,” said Maria C. Carrillo, Ph.D., Alzheimer’s Association chief science officer, in a statement.

Every day, 10,000 Americans turn 65 years old. The current retirement age in the United States is 66 for full-benefit Social Security payments for those born between 1943 and 1954. The full benefit age is 67 for those born in 1960 and beyond, says the Social Security Administration.

Researchers hope the new data gives many people pause, as they think through whether or not to retire.

"At the age of 65 and above, one in 11 people in the U.S. has dementia. That's 5.2 million Americans just looking at Alzheimer's, let alone the other causes of dementia," Fargo said.

Last Modified: July 29, 2016, 1:56 pm

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