Retired? You’re at Risk for This—Tips to Help

Wednesday Apr 16 | BY |
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According to research, the earlier you retire, the quicker your memory declines.

Retirement. For many, it’s the pinnacle of achievement, the time to rest and relax after achieving your life’s goals. Finally you can pursue the things you want to do, rather than the things you have to do.

The fantasy of retirement keeps many working hard throughout most of their lives, but the reality often falls short of expectations. A 2013 study from the U.K. found that 40 percent of retirees suffered from clinical depression, while 6 out of 10 reported a decline in health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that nearly 20 percent of adults over the age of 55 suffer from at least one type of mental health concern, including anxiety and depression. Harvard Health reports that retirement is ranked tenth on the list of life’s 43 most stressful events.

Retirement can be particularly hard on mental health. According to a 2010 study, the earlier people retire, the more quickly their memories decline. A 2013 French study found that seniors who delayed retirement had a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia.

Still, studies haven’t yet pinpointed exactly what it is about work that keeps people’s brains healthier. They suspect it’s the mental stimulation, so if that’s the case, is it possible to maintain that brain activity without continuing to slave away at the office?

New research from Concordia University in Montreal suggests it is.

Retirees Need to Ramp Up Intellectual Pursuits

Study leader Dr. Lawrence Baer and colleagues examined data from 333 retirees with an average age of 59, who were all in good health at the beginning of the study. They then followed them for four years, regularly assessing cognition through the Montreal Cognitive Assessment.

“Retirement usually occurs right around the time when normal age-related declines in cognitive function come to the fore,” said Dr. Baer. “So it is important to understand what is happening to brainpower during this period and to identify risk factors for mental decline, as well as factors that will help protect against it.”

The results of the study showed the following:

  1. The greater the variety of cognitive activities that retirees engaged in, the better their cognitive performance three years after retirement.
  2. The more people sought out and engaged in cognitively demanding activities, the less likely they were to experience cognitive decline.
  3. Even mild signs of depression after retirement increased risk of a decline in brainpower.
  4. Those individuals who sought out mentally stimulating activities—who “needed” something to challenge their brains—enjoyed longer-lasting mental sharpness. This need served as a sort of protective factor against mental decline.
  5. The need for mental stimulation grows over time—“as retirees settle into retirement,” Dr. Baer noted, “they need to ramp up the intensity of their intellectual pursuits.”

Dr. Baer added that “novelty” was key—engaging in new activities. As these activities become routine and the novelty wears off, they no longer have the same power to boost cognitive power. This usually happened between year three and four. At that point, it’s time to seek out something new.

Do It with a Friend

The last piece of advice from the study may sound familiar, but it’s unlikely that a lot of people have thought of it in relation to mental stimulation—find friends who will encourage and push you. Just like eating with healthy friends helps you eat healthier, and exercising with fit friends helps you keep your fitness goals, engaging in novel, mentally stimulating activities with friends will increase your odds of staying mentally sharp.

Particularly in retirement, seniors often miss the support and camaraderie of their peers. This can quickly lead to depression, which hastens cognitive decline. Finding a new group of like-minded people in classes, clubs, and through new hobbies can be key to achieving optimal mental health.

Consider Supplements and Herbs

A number of supplements have been found to be protective for the aging brain, and may help you keep hold of things like memory and sharpness.

Herbs that have shown some potential in helping to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s:

  • Ashwagandha
  • Gingko biloba (though studies are mixed)
  • Spearmint and rosemary extracts (in animal studies)
  • Cinnamon (in animal studies)
  • Sage
  • Lemon balm

Some vitamins have also shown in studies to possibly protect against Alzheimer’s and memory loss, but it’s always best to get these in foods, as research on supplements is mixed, and a large intake of some can be more harmful than helpful.

  • Vitamin C: peppers, guavas, dark green leafy veggies, kiwi
  • Vitamin E: tofu, spinach, nuts, sunflower seeds
  • Beta-carotene: sweet potato, carrots, dark green leafy veggies, romain lettuce, squash
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: salmon, anchovies, flaxseed, walnuts
  • Carnitine: beef steak, milk, codfish, chicken breast

Have you challenged yourself to learn new things after retirement? Please share your thoughts.

* * *

Mike Lewis, “Life After Retirement—What Do I Do Now?” Forbes, October 22, 2013,

Jayna Omaye, “Living happily after retirement: Planning, staying active are key, experts say,” Medill Reports, Northwestern University, August 26, 2013,

Patrick J. Skerrett, “Is retirement good for health or bad for it?” Harvard Health Blog, December 10, 2012,

Gina Kolata, “Taking Early Retirement May Retire Memory, Too,” New York Times, October 11, 2010,

June Springer, “Dementia risk reduced by putting off retirement, study suggests,” CBS News, July 15, 2013,

Rick Nauert, “Maintain Brain Health after Retirement with Cognitive Drills, Positivity,” Psych Central News, October 2, 2013,

Baer LH, et al., “Longitudinal associations of need for cognition, cognitive activity, and depressive symptomatology with cognitive function in recent retirees,” J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 2013 Sep;68(5): 655-64,

“Interview: Learning Boosts Brain Health in Retirement,” Aging Horizons,

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho.

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