Working longer reduces dementia risk

If you're waiting for an early retirement, my column today may be a disappointing one.

A new study shows people who delay retirement may significantly reduce their risk of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. This study of roughly 500,000 French seniors was by far the largest of its kind and presented at this year's Alzheimer's Association international conference in Boston.

Results showed that for each additional year of work, the risk of dementia is reduced by just over three percent.

The research was conducted by the French government and examined health records of elderly people who had mostly been shopkeepers or craftsmen. On average, those studied were 74 years old and had been retired 12 years.

Almost three percent had developed dementia and the risk was tied to age of retirement. Those who retired at 65 had a 15 percent lower risk than those who retired at 60.

These results are perhaps not surprising since we have known for some time that physical and mental activity and a sense of purpose have a protective effect on the brain. Remaining engaged in a job can help in all three areas as well as helping to remain socially connected.

In past columns I have also written about remaining engaged in the world whether or not one continues to work at a paid job. It is not certain whether this study compared paid work to those who remain very connected and purpose-driven in volunteer positions or other activities that may provide similar stimulation.

I think there is enough evidence now to suggest that one of the worst things we can do in terms of our aging brain is to simply retire in the most literal sense of the word. Retreating from the world - ceasing a job in favour of relaxing in an armchair all day.

I think that concept is not very attractive to most aging people today anyway. We no longer live in a time when a person is elderly at age 65. Many are still very healthy and fit. Definitely not armchair bound. Although this was a ripe old age a couple of generations ago, the 60s now are really part of the middle age period and I think should be treated as such.

My advice is to continue living life to the fullest no matter what your age. If you enjoy your work and are able to continue it, don't let a number on a calendar determine when you will stop. If you do stop working in a paid career, whether by choice or a mandated retirement, continue being involved in the world and in the activities you enjoy.

Although the saying is a clichè, it is true that the aging brain is like a muscle. It is not possible to prevent every case of dementia, but continuing to put the brain to use can help keep it in good shape.


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