How Many Hours of Work Most Benefits the Aging Brain?

Many older adults continue working in their current position or start new, second act careers long past retirement age.  Seniors often feel they are not ready to slow down and their jobs offer not only a steady paycheck but social interaction and a sense of purpose.  But how much work, and how much stress is beneficial to the aging brain?

With greater longevity, many older adults may need to work to supplement their retirement savings or feel that to stay mentally sharp, they need to keep working.  A recent study from the University of Melbourne looks closely at how much work is beneficial for cognitive ability in adults over 40 and at what point does working too much have a negative effect on cognition.

Data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics Survey in Australia was analyzed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research to determine the impact of working on people over the age of 40.   The study findings showed that working up to about 25 hours per week had a positive effect on cognitive function but exceeding that amount demonstrated the opposite.  These results challenge the traditional “use it or lose it” approach to preserving cognitive function in older age. 

A large-scale French study suggests that delaying retirement could lessen the risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, provided your job requires you to solve problems and stimulates the mind.  Because most people who continue to work in older age enjoy their jobs and remaining socially connected, their overall good health and well-being may also contribute to better cognition. 

Australian researchers believe that while stimulating brain activity does have a positive effect on cognition, long hours spent working on tasks can increase stress and fatigue causing a detrimental effect on the aging brain.  Evidence suggests that older adults who continue to work are best served by taking jobs requiring between 20 and 30 hours of labor each week to optimize cognitive function.

Working part-time also allows seniors the flexibility they may want in semi-retirement while earning extra income and staying relevant.  Work can also help older adults remain socially connected with a diverse group of people and avoid social isolation that can sometimes lead to depression.   

To read the full study online, follow this link to The University of Melbourne Faculty of Business and Economics