Early retirement may have 'significant' impact on mental decline

Retiring early may improve your overall health by increasing the quality of your sleep and reducing how much you drink. Despite that, retiring early may ultimately play a 'significant role' in harming older adults' mental functions, paving the way for dementia in the elderly. This negative impact was found to apply to retirees regardless of the country they lived in.

Cognitive decline and dementia in older adults is a growing public health issue; as people in developing countries live longer and the birth rates decrease, more systems have been introduced that make it possible for older adults to retire. One such system is China's NRPS pension program, which was launched for older adults in rural regions to deal with poverty and health issues.

A new study from Binghamton University focused on adults who were part of the NRPS program using data from CHARLS, the Chinese Health and Retirement Longitudinal Survey. Researchers focused specifically on adults ages 60 and older with the intent of discovering how pension benefits may impact the cognitive performance of recipients.

Though pension benefits help keep the elderly out of poverty, the study found they have an unwanted side effect: speeding up the rate of cognitive decline in these older adults. The impact was found to be more pronounced in women than men; the researchers found that retirement played a 'significant role' in the mental decline.

Similar negative associations between retirement, particularly early retirement, and cognitive performance have also been found in other countries, including Europe and the US. The reason for the negative impact is thought to be the decreased mental activity that results from retiring — when someone spends most of their time partaking in the same pattern of leisure activities, particularly in isolation, their mental activity drops, potentially paving the way for dementia that progresses much faster.

Retirement isn't entirely negative — researchers have found that it is also linked to reduced smoking, reduced drinking, and improved sleep, all of which improve one's health. However, retirement is also linked to a big drop in socializing and other activities that keep one's mind sharp. Remaining socially connected and engaged, as well as regularly exercising one's mind, may be key to preventing this cognitive decline after retirement, but additional research is needed.