Study highlights two powerful factors for cognitive health in old age

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With global life expectancies improving year on year, figures indicate a growing prevalence of age-related diseases like dementia. Several factors could counter the risk of cognitive decline as the body ages, but new scientific findings indicate that two may be more important than others.

New scientific findings have suggested that early access to retirement plans may play a significant role in worsening cognitive decline at older ages.

The discovery was made by researchers at Binghamton University after they set out to determine how retirement plans affect the cognitive performance of people.

For the study, researchers examined the effects of a new Chinese formal pension program implemented in rural parts of the country in response to the large demographic boom.

After obtaining administrative data from the Government data on the implementation of the pension program, the researchers set out to assess how it affected the cognitive health of plan participants.

Plamen Nikolow, assistant professor of economics and his team made interesting findings in relation to the new retirement program.

The researchers discovered that the program led to significant adverse effects on cognitive functioning among the elders.

The most apparent indicator of cognitive decline observed was delayed recall, which is deemed an important predictor of dementia.

The scientist said that results strengthen the hypothesis that decreased mental activity results in worsening cognitive skills.

Another key finding was that the negative effects of the pension plan appeared to be more pronounced among females.

Professor Nikolow said: “Participants in the program report substantially lower levels of soil engagement, with a significantly lower rate of volunteering and social interactions than non-beneficiaries.

“We find that increased social isolation is strongly linked with faster cognitive decline among the elderly.”

It’s been shown in previous research that social isolation may have a shrinking effect on the brain.

More specifically, researchers have found that people who are socially isolated have lower brain volumes in the regions associated with learning and thinking.

These parts of the brain are among the first to become impaired in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

Though the program may encourage such behaviours, the research suggests there may be some benefits to reap from early retirement.

Professor Nikolow explained: “Interestingly, we found that the program improved some healthy behaviours.

“Program participants reported a reduced incidence of regular alcoholic drinks compared to the previous year.

“Overall, the adverse effect of early retirement on mental and social engagement significantly outweighs the programs’ protective effects on various health behaviours.”

The assistant professor added: “Alternatively, the kinds of things that matter and determine better health might be very different from the kinds of things that matter for better cognition among the elderly.

“Social engagement and connectedness may simply be the single most powerful factors for cognitive performance in old age.”

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