In a study from Binghamton University and elsewhere, scientists found early retirement can accelerate cognitive decline among the elderly.
They examined China’s New Rural Pension Scheme (NRPS) and the Chinese Health and Retirement Longitudinal Survey (CHARLS) to determine how retirement plans affect cognitive performance among plan participants.
CHARLS, a nationally representative survey of people ages 45 and above within the Chinese population, directly tests cognition with a focus on episodic memory and components of intact mental status.
The team showed that access to retirement plans can play a significant role in explaining cognitive decline at older ages.
The most significant indicator of cognitive decline was delayed recall, a measure widely implicated in neurobiological research as an important predictor of dementia.
The pension program had more negative effects among older women, and the results support the mental retirement hypothesis that decreased mental activity results in worsening cognitive skills.
While the team found that pension benefits and retirement lead to improved health, the program also induced a stark and much more negative influence on other dimensions: social activities, activities linked to mental fitness and social engagement.
The team says participants in the program report much lower levels of social engagement, with lower rates of volunteering and social interaction than non-beneficiaries.
They find that increased social isolation is strongly linked with faster cognitive decline among the elderly.
But the program also improved some health behaviors. Program participants reported a reduced incidence of regular alcohol drinking compared to the previous year.
Overall, the adverse effects of early retirement on mental and social engagement significantly outweigh the program’s protective effect on various health behaviors.
Surprisingly, the estimated program impacts were similar to the negative findings regarding the same phenomenon but in higher-income countries such as America, England, and the European Union.
The team says they hope this research will help create new policies to improve the cognitive functioning of older generations during retirement.
If you care about brain health, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and these antioxidants could help reduce dementia risk.
For more information about brain health, please see recent studies that cranberries could help boost memory, and how alcohol, coffee and tea intake influence cognitive decline.
The study was conducted by Plamen Nikolov et al and published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.
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