As aging Baby Boomer’s wholeheartedly embrace the “age is just a number” philosophy, older adults are constantly proving that it’s not all downhill after a certain birthday. Physical and cognitive function can remain vital after 60, 70 or even 80 and recent studies have found some aspects of brain function actually improve with age.
But there is one caveat to all this encouraging news; staying mentally acute in older age relies primarily on a “use is or lose it” principle. And for this reason, delaying retirement may be the best thing seniors can do to retain their cognitive capabilities.
A recent study of nearly half a million self-employed workers in France lends evidence to the assertion that continuing to work past retirement age keeps the brain active while helping to promote social interaction and a sense of purpose. Working longer may also lower the risk for developing dementia.
Forbes Magazine recently reported that although older workers may process information more slowly, other skills including language and speech as well as general knowledge and the ability to develop strong relationships improve with age. A 2010 academic paper out of the University of Michigan looked at data involving people across the United States and Europe who retired in their early 60s. The study found that stopping working had a significantly negative effect on the cognitive abilities of older adults.
Keep in mind that paid work is not the only way for seniors to stay mentally sharp; hobbies, volunteering, re-training or a second-act career can serve a similar purpose. Learning something new is also important to keep the brain firing on all cylinders and whether it’s taking a cooking class or finally mastering Italian, engaging the mind and remaining socially connected can help older adults stay sharp.
To read more about brain health, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Healthy Brain Initiative here.