Research has shown that retirement is often associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline. However, little was known about the motivation factors that could make someone more susceptible to such a decrease in mental health until now. New research has found a possible link between retirement and cognitive decline.
According to a new study published by the American Psychological Association, certain middle-aged and older adults, especially women, who tend to disengage from difficult tasks and goals after they retire may be at a higher risk of cognitive decline as they age.
“This study raises questions about how individual differences in motivation and gender may play a role in cognitive declines and points to the potential importance of continuing to engage in mentally stimulating activities in retirement,” said lead author Jeremy Hamm, Ph.D., of North Dakota State University. “This may be a significant challenge for people who tend to let go of goals when they encounter initial obstacles and setbacks.”
Published in the journal Psychology and Aging, the study looked at data from a longitudinal survey of 7,108 participants aimed at identifying the factors that influence health as people age. A group of 732 participants from the survey were examined to find the differences in cognitive function between retired adults and others who chose to continue working past retirement age. Half of the participants were female and 94% of participants were white.
Disengagement of Challenging Tasks
“Our premise was that not all those who retire are likely to be at higher risk of decline. We thought that individuals who retire may be more or less at risk, depending on their tendency to disengage from challenging tasks and goals that could otherwise provide a source of mental stimulation,” Hamm said.
Participants’ commitments to personal goals were measured as part of the study. They were asked to rate their level of agreement with statements such as “To avoid disappointments, I don’t set my goals too high” and “I feel relieved when I let go of some of my responsibilities” on a scale of one to four.
A telephone test was also required by participants to measure basic cognitive functions, such as memory, reasoning, and processing speed.
It was found that retired women who were prone to disengagement had a larger decline in cognitive functioning compared to their peers who remained employed. The study also found that no differences were shown between retired and working men who were prone to disengagement. According to Hamm, this could be due to their higher socioeconomic status which may have protected them from early declines.
“Our findings suggest not everyone who retires is at greater risk of cognitive declines. There are many opportunities to engage in mentally stimulating activities in retirement, such as reading or playing word games,” he said. “However, personal agency and motivation may come to the fore at this stage of the lifespan since these activities often need to be self-initiated and autonomously maintained.”
This study helps to outline the importance of keeping mentally engaged post-retirement, especially for women. For those who are at retirement age, joining a senior center, or finding a new hobby, is a great way to help lower the risk of cognitive decline.