Another piece in the “use it or lose” it puzzle fell into place recently. Last October, the Social Science Network Review published a very clever research paper that concluded that early retirement ages correlate with decline in brain performance. The conclusion by the authors was:
“We find that early retirement has a significant negative impact on the cognitive ability of people in their early 60s that is both quantitatively important and causal.”
A reprise of that article was published yesterday in the Journal of Economic Perspectives under the title Mental Retirement. The analysis compared performance on a series of cognitive measures between countries with differing retirement ages. In a recent article New York Times article, Gina Kolata reported a number of comments on the result, most being supportive of the concept of “use it or lose it” when it comes to brain performance. The article ended with the usual “more research is needed” caveat.
I’ll take a different view of the conclusion we should reach from this research. I think this is actually another piece of evidence to support the idea that leading a brain-healthy lifestyle improves cognitive abilities later in life. Last month, Rush University published a study that followed 1,100 people for 12 years and concluded, “… the rate of cognitive decline in people without cognitive impairment was reduced by 52 percent for each point on the cognitive activity scale.” (I wrote about that result in previous blog post.)
There is also the well-known Nun Study, in which a research team led by Dr. David Snowdon followed 678 nuns and found several individuals with Alzheimer’s pathology upon autopsy but who reportedly showed no visible symptoms of Alzheimer’s at their time of death. One of Dr. Snowdon’s conclusions: “About half the Sisters are mentally normal when they die. And what is quite surprising to us is that a significant number of them have full-blown Alzheimer’s disease in the brain that are acting normal.”
Research on Posit Science’s technology has shown the ability to improve cognitive performance by challenging the brain through our speed of processing training. Two landmark studies have been performed on our technology: the IMPACT Study, which tested the BrainHQ exercises, and the ACTIVE Study, which tested the UFOV technology found in BrainHQ. Combining a regimen of challenging and engaging brain training exercises with regular physical exercise, a healthy diet, and an active social life is a reasonable recommendation to preserve an active and healthy life. In the same way doctors recommend changes to diet and regular exercise to lower the likelihood of a heart attack occurring, we need to be more bold in telling people what they can do that is based on judgment informed by good science to keep their mind vibrant.