Dementia is an umbrella word for a group of degenerative neurological conditions (those affecting the brain) that have an influence on memory, thinking, and behavior.
There are several forms of dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most prevalent.
Dementia is a problem all over the world, but it is most common in richer countries where people tend to live longer.
A recent study, published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, has found that individuals in rural China who retire at around 60 years old experience a more significant cognitive decline than their peers.
The study, which used data from China’s National Rural Pension Scheme (NRPS), suggests that being in a work and social environment can help stimulate the brain. To avoid cognitive problems, experts recommend keeping the brain active through activities such as playing word games and reading during retirement.
The NRPS was established in 2009 as a means to provide financial support for the elderly. It operates through a combination of contributions from the central government and voluntary contributions from individuals. Participation in the program is open to individuals as young as 16 years old. Currently, the majority of older residents in rural China, who are 60 years and older, are eligible for the pension program, which is a voluntary opt-in program and not mandatory.
According to lead author Plamen Nikolov, this “program was introduced because of China’s rapidly rising aging population and in an effort to alleviate poverty in old age.”
The Chinese Health and Retirement Longitudinal Survey (CHARLS), a cognitive survey, was used by the researchers to examine the impact of retirement plans on participants’ cognitive function.
People were asked about their complicated financial decisions, their health, and their plans for long-term care.
The researchers were encouraged by the fact that the prevalence of heavy drinking among pension program participants declined from the previous year.
But they discovered that the people who took part did less volunteering and socializing than the people who did not take part.
When the researchers looked into it more, they found that the early retirees did worse on cognitive tests as well.
The study found that delayed recall, a test that is often used to predict dementia in a patient, was the best sign of cognitive decline.
“Individuals in the areas,” according to the lead author, “that implement the NRPS score considerably lower than individuals who live in areas that do not offer the NRPS program.”
The researchers said that they cannot be positive that early retirement was the underlying cause of cognitive loss, and they are not ruling out other lifestyle and socioeconomic variables.
However, according to Nikolov, there is no question that older individuals should engage in social activities to avoid dementia.
“Social engagement and connectedness,” the lead author adds, “may simply be the single most powerful factors for cognitive performance in old age.”
Image Credit: Getty
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