Use It Or Lose It

active old age, people and lifestyle concept - happy senior couple riding bicycles at summer park

You’re looking forward to the day when you can finally stop working and do all those things you’ve dreamt about – spending more time with the family, travelling to glorious places you’ve seen in magazines, getting fitter, taking up a new hobby, becoming more active in the community etc.

You’ve spent time with your financial planner going through the numbers to make sure you have enough capital to be secure and enjoy the lifestyle you have planned without fear of ever running out of money.

It’s all going to be great! What could possibly go wrong?

We are all aware that the ability of the brain to perform as well as we would like fades over time. It is simply a part of the ageing process, and we also understand that some lifestyle choices may accelerate the speed of this decay. A new study, however, indicates that there is another powerful force you should consider.

A recent report published in the European Journal of Epidemiology has revealed that brain function declines much more rapidly after retirement compared to the previous period in employment.

Researchers from University College, London and Kings College, London studied 3,400 Civil Servants across a wide range of employment levels over a period of 28 years – 14 prior to retirement and 14 afterwards. They found that verbal memory deteriorated 38% faster once the participant has stopped working, after making allowance for the ongoing age-related decline.

It is particularly challenging if you are thinking about retiring ‘early’ – i.e. before State Pension age – as, by definition, there will be a longer period in which this mental decline will impact on your own and family situation.

This isn’t just a question of doing the crossword or Sudoko every day – as has perhaps been suggested previously. It requires consistent active participation in stimulating activities.

Work is not just about earning money to pay the bills and do the things we want to – although that’s obviously quite important! Depending on the nature of your work it may provide so much more than this:

  • Physical exertion
  • Creative thinking and problem solving
  • Social interaction
  • Competition
  • Sense of purpose and relevance
  • Opportunities for growth and development

It is not surprising, therefore, that many people find retirement so difficult. Regrettably, not enough thought is generally given to what a future life will look like.

At Serenity, we are great believers in the value of academic research in driving decision making. This new work confirms that simply putting your feet up, spending more time with the family, travelling or playing golf are unlikely on their own to help your overall mental well-being. If you do not make a serious effort to use your brain power the ability to do so in the future will rapidly fall away.

There are many factors which will determine how your later life will play out. Some of these are outside your control, but others quite clearly are not. Your challenge is to find something which provides continuing mental stimulation, involves engagement with other people and inspires you.

Blog post by Ian Kemp – Financial Life Planner with Serenity