Cognitive decline relates to increasing instances of confusion and memory loss, often resulting in dementia or Alzheimer's in elderly populations. As individuals live longer, the risk of developing this health issue grows.
However, it’s not inevitable.
I wanted to focus on the leading indicators of cognitive decline in today’s article, particularly retirement. In doing so, we can better understand how to plan and prevent cognitive decline and ensure that you can enjoy retirement.
Does retirement cause cognitive decline?
While we all face more instances of confusion or memory loss as we age, certain events trigger significant cognitive declines. Biological triggers stem from family history, chronic illnesses, exposure to toxins, or brain injuries. However, a study found in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society discovered that retirement can instigate significant cognitive decline.
This study revealed a few interesting insights related to cognitive decline among other demographics:
- College-educated individuals saw the largest drop in cognitive decline
- White men tended to suffer the most from retirement-related cognitive decline
- Black women showed the least cognitive decline in retirement
The connection of retirement to mental deterioration isn’t unique to the United States, either.
Another study from Binghamton University found similar results in a study of retirees in China. Reducing social engagements and mentally stimulating activities contributes to cognitive decline and a lower quality of life for early retirees.
In other words, yes, retirement can trigger cognitive decline in older adults. So, what can you do about it?
Let’s review how you can plan for this possibility and then how to prevent it—and enjoy your golden years.
Planning for cognitive decline
When drafting your retirement plan, factoring in cognitive decline can reduce potential stressors. These are the essential questions to ask yourself and your loved ones:
- Who should be given Power of Attorney? Selecting a trusted advocate to ensure you are taken care of is the first step towards protecting your health and interests in the advent of a worst-case scenario.
- Is your financial information centralized? To reduce stress for family and friends, it can be helpful to keep your financial information and personal documents. This can include a trust, will, your social security number, bank account information, and other relevant documentation.
- How much would you need, on average, for additional healthcare needs? Living with cognitive decline often requires more assistance for basic tasks and potentially round-the-clock care. Estimating potential costs can help you better plan your retirement finances and lessen the burden on family members.
- What are the costs of preventative measures? To prevent cognitive decline, you may find yourself partaking in new hobbies, activities, or healthcare regimens. As a result, you may be spending more, too. You will want to factor these costs into your retirement budget.
6 ways to keep your brain healthy in retirement
The good news is that there are ways to keep your mind healthy and productive, thus ensuring you can enjoy your golden years. While there’s no surefire way to avoid cognitive decline, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that 40% of dementia cases are preventable. As a result, it’s safe to say that engaging in these activities will likely do more good than harm.
- Keep your mind active
Challenging your mind through problem-solving activities or games can help you maintain cognitive function. These can be as simple as puzzles, math problems, sewing, painting, reading, playing games, or writing. In other words, engaging in a hobby or skill that keeps your mind focused is an ideal task for brain health. And there are things you will likely be doing anyway.
- Exercise regularly
Staying physically active is important not just for your cognitive function but for overall health. Therefore, it’s vital to plan daily physical activity, making up at least 150 minutes a week.
- Eat healthy
Another simple fix is eating well. Healthy foods rich in antioxidants and vitamins will keep your mind healthy, not just your body. In particular, berries, coffee, fatty fish, walnuts, green vegetables, and dark chocolate are all power foods for your brain.
- Sleep well
A good, solid sleep wards off a number of physical ailments, including diabetes. So, it’s no surprise that it can also improve cognitive function and reduce depression and anxiety. Getting seven to nine hours of sleep, ideally on a schedule, will ensure that you better preserve your memory and concentration skills.
- Socialize often
One of the most significant predictors of cognitive decline is social isolation. Ensuring that you are a part of social groups, whether church or hobby meet-ups, will help you stave off loneliness. Socializing can also help you maintain a healthy mindset as you learn from other retirees.
- Reduce addictive substances
Any kind of addictive substance, including tobacco and alcohol, can impair cognitive ability. This is especially true as you get older. Reducing or eliminating these substances can protect your physical and mental health, as well as decrease the likelihood of a cognitive decline.
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