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Does Retirement Cause Memory Loss?

Category: Health and Wellness Issues

November 26, 2020 — You see the person coming down the aisle toward you and… panic! A minute ago their name was on the tip of your tongue, but now it is gone! Or, you are describing something to a friend, and the name of the book or the noun you are looking for has completely escaped you. It happens to all of us, but new research indicates that it is more likely to occur in people who are retired than people of the same age who are working.

Ross Andel, director of the School of Aging Studies at the University of South Florida, tested the memories of people in their early 60s living in Canberra, Australia over almost a 20 year period. In the Australian test, starting at age 60 subjects were were asked to remember as many random and unrelated words in a list as they could. The tests were repeated every 4 years.

The most startling conclusion from the study was that people who were retired suffered much greater memory loss compared to people of the same age who were still working. Although it is natural for our brains to slow down as we age, he warns that retiring carries a risk that can “speed up the aging of our brain. It could make us slower and more forgetful.”

So what can we do about it

Andel has a short Ted Talk video that explains the study along with suggestions with how to avoid memory loss in retirement. His theory is that while we are working we face a number of challenges every day that keep us engaged. After completing these tasks we get satisfaction, and feel excitement about the weekend coming, when we can relax and let loose. Andel recommends trying to replicate those challenges by doing something that occupies us. That might be reengaging with the family, doing volunteer work, taking a course, finding an interesting hobby you always wanted to take up, or a part-time job.

He makes the point that if someone gave you $1440 every day you would probably be excited to spend part of your day thinking about how you will spend or invest it. Well as retirees we get 1440 minutes a day – an important gift we should value. When we were working about 480 of those minutes went to the job – Andel thinks we should invest those in something important that engages us. With that done we can re-create that feeling of weekend anticipation, satisfied that we have done something important to deserve it. He believes this is the key to keeping your brain accurate and memory in high gear.

Bottom line:

This is not the only study to conclude that retirement can be hazardous to your health (see below). If you are retired, use some of your time to replicate that feeling of accomplishment you had when you were working. His wish – for everyone to find their post retirement dream and hang on to it.

For further reading:

Comments? What are you doing to keep your brain engaged and active every day? Are you experiencing memory loss, and does it worry you? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Posted by Admin on November 26th, 2020


  1. Specious results without knowing what the retired people were doing. If they say around just watching TV or socializing, I would expect memory loss. As suggested, those who are active planning the future, studying, busily working with complex hobbies etc. would likely be totally different. As has been discussed here in recent days, there are many “types” of retirement. Mental and physical activity tends to slow memory loss.

    by RichPB — November 27, 2020

  2. Or does memory loss induce retirement? Just because you find a correlation doesn’t mean you have found a cause and effect relationship. I play competitive duplicate bridge (or at least I did before COVID hit). The American Contract Bridge League likes to tout that there is a lower frequency of dementia among bridge players than among non-players. Well, that “fact” is well established but it may not mean anything. People who are losing their cognitive abilities generally don’t take up mentally taxing games like bridge. I would suspect that the reason that bridge players have lower rates of dementia is because their brains are healthier in the first place.

    FWIW, I agree with his recommendations. Just because we’re retired doesn’t me we should sit in front of a TV all day like a zombie watching mindless television. For my wife and I retirement has meant we do what we want, what engages and interests us virtually every day. We do what we WANT to and not what we HAVE to. Each of us occasionally has what we call “slug” days when one of us doesn’t much feel like doing anything (and lay around like a “slug”), but those days are few. We’ve embraced retirement as an opportunity rather than just the time between working and dying. I have a feeling that attitude will serve us well in the years to come.

    by JeffD — November 27, 2020

  3. JeffD,. +1. Many variables.

    by RichPB — November 28, 2020

  4. As I’m sure many of you have, I find that reading seems to help keep my mind sharp. Interesting and challenging books that require you to occasionally look up word definitions are helpful and can add to your spoken vocabulary. I read all kinds of books and like both ebooks and physical books. They each have their benefits. I like well-written mysteries, espionage and suspense novels. There are so many of these from the past and up to present-day authors. Regular books and ebooks are abundantly available from libraries for free. My library doesn’t even charge overdue fees for seniors! Mysteries and similar types of genres exercise our minds by causing us to try try to spot clues and to figure out “whodunnit.” Reading is generally a sedentary pleasure, so it’s important to also keep physically active, if possible, in order to help keep your brain functioning at its highest capacity. I looked forward to having more reading time when I retired and that has happily been the case!

    by Clyde — November 29, 2020

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