Early retirement may retire your memory

The New York Times today reports on a study, published recently in the Journal of Economic Perspective, that suggests that the earlier people retire, the more quickly their memory declines.

The study compared memory test results for aging populations from many countries and found a direct correlation between performance by a nation’s seniors on a memory task and that nation’s average retirement age. In the United States, where 65 to 70 percent of men are still working in their early sixties, seniors had the highest cognitive score (11 out of 20 words remembered when asked to repeat and later recall a list of words). In Spain, where only 38 percent of men are working in their early sixties, the average cognitive score was 6.

As the Times article pointed out, the study doesn’t indicate what aspect of working helps older individuals retain their memories, nor whether all types of work are helpful:

If work does help maintain cognitive functioning, it will be important to find out what aspect of work is doing that, said Dr. Richard Suzman, associate director for behavioral and social research at the National Institute on Aging. “Is it the social engagement and interaction or the cognitive component of work, or is it the aerobic component of work?” he asked. “Or is it the absence of what happens when you retire, which could be increased TV watching?”

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