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Keep working to save brain power

What’s happening? Delaying retirement may slow cognitive decline, a paper in SSM – Population Health suggests. Researchers examined data from 20,469 participants in the US Health and Retirement Study from 55 to 75-years-old and employed at some point between 1996 and 2014. They found postponing retirement until 67 slowed cognitive decline and protected against cognitive impairment, like that linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Many governments are increasing the statutory retirement age, so it is important to understand related health consequences, the team said. (SSM – Population Health, Max Plank Institute)

Why does this matter? People are living longer than ever, so it’s important they maintain their health so they can enjoy a good quality of life with less dependence on the help of others and medical or care services. As the study suggests, delaying retirement can be one way of achieving this, alongside gaining the financial benefits that working later in life can reap.

Meaningful work provides people with a sense of purpose which boosts wellbeing, as do the social connections that come with it. For some this is hard to maintain after retirement, raising the risk of loneliness. This can contribute to depression, cognitive decline and dementia among other serious health issues.

A healthy workforce at any age – Older people who want to work need to feel welcome in the workforce. To ensure jobs are available and inclusive for them companies will have to address concerns around ageism, an issue that worsened over the Covid-19 pandemic. Employers not only need to be more open to employing older staff, but they also need to embrace technologies and methods to help these colleagues perform in their role most effectively and ensure their health and safety is protected.

Alternative opportunities – Full time work may not be an option for some older people for various reasons, so it is important that alternative opportunities – such as part time or flexible roles and gig economy jobs – are also open to them. Financial support should be available to those that need it, to ensure they can maintain a decent standard of living without worrying about poverty.

No one wants to work forever – For those that do decide to retire, it’s important they take steps to manage their wellbeing. This time in life can be grasped as an opportunity to engage more fully with hobbies or to give back to society through volunteering. Staying social is essential, especially for those with fewer friends and family. This can be achieved by regularly participating in social clubs and events, including those held virtually, where new connections can be made while having fun or learning something new. Even taking up gaming can be beneficial. These kinds of activities should be encouraged – or perhaps even prescribed like exercise or time in nature – by health care professionals to stave off cognitive decline.

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Nicola Watts

Sustainability Curator

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