Study Finds Early Retirement May Worsen Cognitive Decline

A new study carried out by researchers at Binghamton University has found that retiring at an early age may speed up cognitive decline among the elderly. Assistant economics professor Plamen Nikolov led the study, with the help of economics doctoral student Shahadath Hossain.

The researchers’ objective was to determine how retirement plans affected cognitive performance. They focused on Asia, which has recorded a decline in fertility and has a higher life expectancy, meaning the elderly make up the biggest demographic. This has created a need for better sustainable pension systems.

For their study, the duo examined data obtained from the Chinese Health and Retirement Longitudinal Survey and China’s New Rural Pension Scheme. The Chinese Health and Retirement Longitudinal Survey is a nationally representative survey of individuals aged 45 and above in China. The survey directly tests participant cognition with a focus on components of intact mental status and episodic memory.

They also obtained data detailing the socioeconomic and behavior characteristics of participants in the new pension scheme. This led to the discovery that the new retirement program caused adverse effects on cognitive functioning among the elderly. The researchers observed delayed recall, a predictor of dementia, in most participants, noting that the program also affected females more negatively in comparison to their male counterparts.

Nikolov explained that their findings supported the mental retirement hypothesis that reduced mental activity caused cognitive skills to worsen.

The researchers also found that while retirement and pension benefits caused improvements in participant health, it also influenced social activities and engagement as well as activities linked to mental fitness negatively.

In their report, Nikolov stated that participants reported significantly lower social-engagement levels, with substantially lower volunteering and social interaction rates with those who didn’t benefit from the program. He explained that increased social isolation was strongly associated with faster decline in cognitive function among older individuals.

He then noted that while the retirement program did improve some health behaviors, the adverse effects of early retirement on social and mental engagement substantially outweighed its benefits.

The researchers were also surprised to observe that their findings were similar to those seen in higher income nations such as England and the United States. This, they said, showed that retirement affects individuals in different areas in similar ways.

The researchers are hopeful that the study will be useful in the creation of new policies to improve cognitive functioning among the elderly following their retirement.

The study’s findings were published in the “Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.”

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