On March 16th a study by the American Psychological Association showed that some middle-aged and older people, especially those who tend to be out of difficult tasks and goals after retirement, may be at greater risk of cognitive decline as they age. Jeremy Hamm, PhD, of North Dakota State University, said retirement had been shown to be linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline, but the reasons for the decline were unclear.
The team collected data from 732 subjects to study differences in cognitive function between retired adults and other similar populations who chose to continue working beyond retirement age. Half of the subjects were women, and 94% were white. The data come from a national longitudinal survey of the effects of age on health.
The researchers looked at the level of target disengagement of subjects, who were asked to rate their own level of identification, such as “To avoid disappointment, I didn’t set the goal too high” and “I feel relaxed when I gave up some responsibility” with scores ranging from 1 to 4. The subjects also tested basic cognitive functions, such as memory, reasoning, and processing speed, by telephone.
The study found that retired women who were more likely to leave work had a more significant decline in cognitive function than their peers who were still working. But there is no difference between retired men who are easily out of work and those in work, and their higher socio-economic status may shield them from these effects.
Not all retirees are at higher risk of recession, researchers say. We believe that retirees may be more or less at risk, depending on whether they tend to be separated from challenging tasks and goals that may otherwise provide mental stimulation.
The study raises the question of how individual differences in motivation and gender play a role in cognitive decline and the potential importance of continuing to engage in mental stimulation after retirement. There are still plenty of opportunities for mental stimulation activities, such as reading or playing word games, after retirement.