The Dangers of Retirement

Did You Know…that retirement poses a secret danger, especially for your brain?

Postponing retirement has obvious benefits for your budget, but according to a recent study, it may be even more beneficial for your brain health by protecting you from Alzheimer’s disease.  Researchers at France’s governmental health research agency—called the Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale (INSERM)—found that each additional year of work decreases your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia by 3.2 percent.

Better yet, a 5-year difference in age at retirement translated to a significant drop in the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s.  These exciting results were reported by researcher Carole Dufouil, Ph.D. at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in 2013.

Dufouil and an investigative team reviewed the records of more than 400,000 retirees, primarily of those who had formerly been self-employed, to evaluate the link between dementia and retirement.  To eliminate the possibility that some subjects had actually retired because of emerging cognitive problems, the researchers excluded data from those who developed dementia within 5 or 10 years of retiring.

     This groundbreaking French study found that individuals who retired at age 60 were 14.6 percent more likely to develop dementia than those who retired at age 65.  “We were not surprised by the results,” said Dufouil, “but we were surprised by the robustness of the findings.”

Use It or Lose It 

The French study is remarkable, but a handful of previous studies have supported this same theory.  In 2009, researchers at Cardiff University and the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College examined the cases of 382 British male dementia patients and determined that every year the men that had worked past 65 years of age pushed back the onset of dementia symptoms by close to 6 weeks.

Continuing to work, said Dufouil, gives access to important protective factors such as…

• Mental challenges
• Social connections
• Physical activity

“We know that people who participate in mentally stimulating activities such as reading, playing cards, doing crossword puzzles, learning a new language, or taking courses on subjects that interest them are at lower risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease,” commented Dr. Andrew Weil, “so it makes sense that people who continue to work beyond normal retirement age are also at lower risk.”

What’s Your Insurance Policy for Your Brain? 

While the connection between retirement and dementia is undeniable, Heather Snyder, director of medical and scientific operations for the Alzheimer’s Association, said delaying retirement isn’t the only way to avert cognitive decline.

“[The INSERM] study adds to the body of work that says doing things to continue keeping your brain active may be beneficial at reducing the risks of dementia.”  Employment is not the only means to accomplish this.  What’s crucial is that you remain cognitively and socially active.  “My parents are retired but they’re busier than ever,” she said. “They’re taking classes at their local university.”

This is in line with research mentioned by Dr. Weil showing a correlation between years of formal education and brain health.  “The theory is that challenging intellectual activity builds up rich neural connections that function as insurance against later brain-tissue losses,” said Weil.

So when you say farewell to your 9-to-5 job, be sure to fill your free time with intellectually stimulating activities.  Experts recommend choices such as volunteering…writing a book or memoir…or embracing a hobby that requires you learn a new skillset.

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