With greater health in middle and older age, and greater longevity, more older adults are embracing new career opportunities and continuing to work and thrive in pursuit of a second, or even third act endeavor. Although there are some cognitive changes among older adults that begin as early as the mid-30s, there are also some distinct advantages middle-aged and older people possess that can be a leg up in the workplace.
According to a recent Bloomberg Businessweek report, a Harvard/MIT study that tracked the cognitive skills of 48,000 people found that although mental processing speed begins to decline in early adulthood, other cognitive skills continue to grow and develop. The aptitude for math keeps rising until around age 50, as does vocabulary, comprehension, and the ability to detect the emotional state of others.
With years of acquired knowledge, experience, and facts, older adults nearing traditional retirement age are well positioned to excel in their field. The trick to thriving in the workplace for older adults is to embrace a growth mindset and by to discover what fuels the fire and brings meaning and passion for the job. To be successful, especially in older age, it’s also important to protect overall health with regular physical activity and a healthy diet.
When motivation or passion seems to be waning, people of all ages can help jump-start their ambition by joining others in a project or professional group, hiring a leadership coach or partnering up with people who help stoke the imagination. Learning new skills is not only important to staying relevant in the workplace, but studies have shown that continuing to learn and challenge the brain can improve cognitive function and slow down any decline.
Instead of looking at older age as a time of decline, approaching aging with an appreciation for experience and a refinement of thinking can be empowering. Older adults who integrate their accumulated knowledge, social understanding, and verbal prowess developed over a lifetime can indeed thrive at work and have an edge over their younger counterparts. Believing in your skills and tackling opportunities with grit while ignoring ageist naysayers will place older employees and entrepreneurs in a unique position to thrive.