How an early retirement ‘can speed up dementia’: Scientists find quitting work before turning 60 ‘accelerates cognitive decline and memory loss’

  • New York scientists say it is caused by a lack of mental stimulation when retired 
  • Retirement is also usually accompanied by less interaction with other people 
  • This has also been linked to cognitive decline and development of the disease  

Many of us dream of an early retirement, when we can finally book that once-in-a-lifetime holiday and switch off.

But younger retirees may be more likely to develop dementia than those who work until old age, research suggests.

Scientists found quitting work before the age of 60 accelerated cognitive decline and stifled memory in later life – traits of the memory-robbing disorder. 

They believe it is caused by a lack of mental stimulation that employees experience during the working day.

New York scientists have found younger retirees experience accelerated cognitive decline and poorer memory in later life (file image)

New York scientists have found younger retirees experience accelerated cognitive decline and poorer memory in later life (file image)

Retirement is also usually accompanied by a decline in social activities and less interaction with people, which has also been linked to cognitive decline, the researchers say.

It is believed social isolation may also lead a person to live an unhealthier lifestyle, which is thought to drive up the risk of the memory-robbing disorder. 

The cause of dementia remains unknown but evidence is quickly mounting that social interaction, mental stimulation, a healthy diet and exercise can all slash the risk. 

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The team of academics from Binghampton University in New York analysed more than 17,500 individuals as part of China’s Retirement Longitudinal Survey (CHARLS).

WHAT IS DEMENTIA? 

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders, that is, conditions affecting the brain.

There are many different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.

Some people may have a combination of types of dementia.

Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience their dementia in their own unique way.

Dementia is a global concern but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age.

HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?

The Alzheimer’s Society reports there are more than 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK today, of which more than 500,000 have Alzheimer’s.

It is estimated that the number of people living with dementia in the UK by 2025 will rise to over 1 million.

In the US, it’s estimated there are 5.5 million Alzheimer’s sufferers. A similar percentage rise is expected in the coming years. 

IS THERE A CURE?

Currently there is no cure for dementia.

But new drugs can slow down its progression and the earlier it is spotted the more effective treatments are. 

CHARLS is a national survey of the nation’s over-60s from more than 30 provinces that tests participants for mental cognition, memory and overall wellbeing.

It includes a mix of retired people and those still in the workforce from 150 districts in the Asian nation. 

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They found people receiving pension benefits were experiencing much more rapid mental decline than those still on the workforce. 

The most prominent indicator of mental decline among retirees was memory. 

Retired people performed almost 20 per cent worse across all memory tests than those who were still employed. 

Study author Plamen Nikolov, assistant professor of economics at Binghampton, said: ‘For cognition among the elderly, it looks like the negative effect on social engagement far outweighed the positive effect of the program on nutrition and sleep.

‘Or alternatively, the kinds of things that matter and determine better health might simply be very different than the kinds of things that matter for better cognition among the elderly. 

‘Social engagement and connectedness may simply be the single most powerful factors for cognitive performance in old age.’

Professor Nikolov believes the trend is not limited to China and is probably the case in the US, UK and Europe.

The team hopes their findings will encourage retirees to plan more social occasions and keep themselves stimulated during life after work.

Dementia affects around 850,000 people in the UK – a figure set to rise to two million by 2050. In the US, it’s estimated there are 5.7million dementia sufferers. 

With no cure in sight there is an increasing focus on identifying those most at risk to enable the adoption of preventative measures.  



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