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May 17, 2011


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When my kids were real little and I was a stay at home mom, I was exhausted. Not just because I had 3 kids under the age of 4, but because my brain only focused on the very basics of life and was never 'exercised'. (OK, sleep deprivation was a problem too I am sure.) I totally think you need to keep the mind moving.

On the flip side, I think about my father in law, who contemplated early retirement. He did take it at the age of 55. However, just 3 years later, my mother in law had surgery for a giant brain tumor and he had to spend the next years caring for her. (Until he decided to hook up with someone else and divorce her, but that is another story.) Anyway, my point is, you never know how much quality time you are going to have, so it is a balance between being young enough to enjoy life, and being mentally active enough to keep all your faculties in good shape.

One obvious study they should do is to see if there is a relationship between what one does after a certain age and the incidence of Alzheimer's and senility. For instance, do people who do passive mental activities like watch television really fare worse than people who do less passive things? And I really would like to see more data on the physical exercise/mental acuity studies. I strongly suspect that depression (and it is easy to feel depressed if one is poor) cannot be ignored as a catalyst for declining elderly health. I've been retired for years now and don't feel that I am doing less mental or physical exercise than I used to. The only difference now is that there is a lot less stress (I used to teach kids!). I have taken up political causes and write in hopes of changing legislation. I have an easier time working out regularly without dragging myself outside after a stressful work day. I have very busy days, but like being my own boss! Finally, old age might not be the cause of problems; the stage may have been set a lot earlier over a lifetime of poor choices in diet, mental stimulation and the like.

Sounds like a bunch of Bunk.

My father retired at 60 and he is now 84 and sharp as he always been. When he first retires he said I am so busy with things I want to do, I sure can't figure out how I had time to work.

My father in law would just sit there and watch TV if my mohter in law would let him but she keeps him going.

It is also a proven statistic that the earlier you retire the longer chance of living. Even if you have health problems.

I have so many things that I would want to do and get back into once my kids are out of the nest I am sure that I will have no problem keeping busy.

I help people plan for retirement and one thing we always say is that everyone's retirement is different. Some will work, some won't. I think I'll be one who works. My ideal job would be to teach at a university where I can keep myself sharp while teaching others.

I know of a couple who are in their 80's and are still capable of doing hard labour now and then. They spend their time volunteering for various things. Still sharp, and they look more like in their 60's. Living further out in the woods and hills may contribute to that as well though.

Every time you read studies like this it is important to remember that correlation does not imply causation.

For example, there could be an underlying cause that makes someone less likely to get Alzheimers and more likely to do brain-stimulating activities.

Likewise, perhaps the correlation between early retirement and longer lifespan could possibly be explained by having more money.

It is much easier to show correlation than it is to prove causation, and to make that conclusion can be a logical fallacy.

I think every individual is different. My own dad retired at 59 years old. Until he suffered a subdural hematoma (sp?) a couple of months ago at age 84, he has been the perfect picture of physical and mental health (that was only the 2nd time he had ever been in th hospital and the first was last September when he fell and hit his head). He tried a couple of "new careers" to keep him busy after retirement but that didn't last long. Since he was maybe 65, he has done nothing but until she died in 2000 he stayed busy looking after my mother who had severe RA so maybe that kept him sharp.

My step-father-in-law is 90 years old and is physically pretty frail (but can still walk and even drive) but he is sharp as the proverbial tack mentally. He is the ultimate "controller" and has to manage everything and everybody. Maybe that's why? My 87 year old mother-in-law is in good shape physically but has had severe dementia for maybe 10 years now. She is very passive and submissive to him. Maybe that's why?

I hope I have my Dad's genes.

I think keeping busy is crucial. I keep thinking about all the projects I'd want to do, the places I'd want to see and so on if I had the complete flexibility of retirement. My father on the other hand is still working mostly because he is unsure how to structure his time otherwise.

One's genes have more to do with your old age than anything else, and even they aren't predictable.

I am 76, retired at 58, and believe that these factors are all important and in no particular order but have a lot to do with longevity and the quality of one's retirement.

1) Healthcare - You need to be in a good clinic, have regular checkups, follow your doctor's advice and get plenty of sleep.
2) Money - You need comfortable accomodation, contentment, security, peace of mind, and happiness,
3) Companionship - A long and happy relationship, enjoying each other's company and being free of stress.
4) Climate - I am living in one of the healthiest climates I have found in all my travels, the SF Bay Area.
5) Good Nutrition - Home cooked food free of preservatives, lots of fruits & vegetables, moderate amounts of fish, chicken & occasionally meat. Obviously NO tobacco or illegal drugs.
6) Physical exercise - I am in a hiking group and hike 8-12 miles once/week in the surrounding hills and mountains.
7) Weight - Follow your doctor's advice, if he's anything like mine he will get on your case if you need to lose some.
8) Mental Stimulation - I use my computer a lot, manage our investments myself, and watch TV programs that teach me about things I didn't know.
9) Hobbies - Primarily gardening. I take care of my 1/3 acre myself and grow lots of fruits & vegetables as well as beautiful flowers of all kinds.
10) Entertainment - We watch a Netflix movie most afternoons, attend a class in US History, eat out twice/week, stay off the freeways and within a 2 mile radius of home at night.

Prior to this year we have done lots of travelling all over the world but decided to call it quits this year because my 78 year old wife of 55 years finds that lots of walking and the hassle of flying half way around the world has become too much for her after undergoing two hip replacements and developing other intermittent aches & pains. Every friend we have will tell you that their short term memory isn't as sharp as it used to be. This seems to be pretty normal. I have found that a great help remembering something that I have a hard time recalling is a capability my parents never had, and that is a computer and Google.

I definitely believe in the mantra "use it or lose it" so I can understand that retirement would cause a decrease in mental acuity. I certainly don't plan on retiring per se but would actually welcome the opportunity to do things that I otherwise wouldn't have had time to do. New hobbies or classes at the local university are some things that I have contemplated.

My grandmother retired at age 60 and has been blissfully retired for 13 years. Since retiring she has started doing the daily crossword in the newspaper, volunteering at a soup kitchen and an orphanage, learned to use a computer (she refused the technology when it first came out), successfully started a garden (a big deal for someone who used to kill houseplants on a regular basis) and became active with her local senior center, thus developing a social life more thriving than mine! While she's not quite as physically fast as she was 13 years ago, she's still sharp as a whip and a total inspiration to me.

My mother-in-law is due to retire next year and I'm worried about her because she has no hobbies. I expressed this concern to my husband and when he talked to his mother, she said her only hobby is eating, so she might end up eating all day. Given that she's already overweight and leans toward processed foods, this is worrisome. She can't think of anything she wants to do with her retirement

Her husband retired last year and hikes daily, grows an amazing vegetable garden, works part-time for his son's painting company and is part of his senior center, Spanish club and Basque cultural center. I'm just hoping that he'll get her involved in what he's doing to keep her busy.

"Minds, like bodies, will often fall into a pimpled, ill-conditioned state from mere excess of comfort."

Charles Dickens

I would agree that for highly complicated work like writing new computer programs or modifying old computer programs there is not a shadow of doubt about the "Use it or Lose it" effect.

I spent two intensive years after I retired in September 1992 writing and marketing a computer program that connected to a proprietary financial database that I still use today that now contains almost half a billion bytes of computer data. My own software consists of 70 modules, each one performing a unique type of analysis, and the complete program consists of almost 8 million bytes of coding, excluding the 300 pages of online documentation and written manual. During those two intensive years, working 7 days/week, from 8 until midnight with short breaks for food, everything about the software and the programming language was right at my finger tips and I was totally familiar with everything and could easily jump into the software to make changes or to debug a problem. In those days I rarely needed to consult the manuals. I ceased development after the two years because it was having too much effect on both of our lives. Thank goodness, I took my software off the market in 2008, but if I needed to go back into it today, after an absence of almost 15 years, to make even the smallest change it would be a very time consuming and daunting task to refresh my memory with all of the things I would need to be able to do. Computer programming is very unforgiving work, the slightest mistake can produce huge problems and there has to be a zero tolerance for errors. Even the software I use that comes with the proprietary database has so many capabilities that few people (including myself) would ever know them all, even with the 2 training videos and copies of the 400 PowerPoint slides that are available.

Another thing that I have noticed is that even using my Nikon DSLR camera, if I haven't used it in over a year I have to get the manual out and refresh my knowledge about some of its more complicated features, of which there a large number. That's the problem with Technology for us older folk. Every time you turn around there's a new device available and it would be hard to get up to speed with it. That's one reason I don't own an iPhone and don't want one. In fact there isn't any new technology that I wish I had, I have all I need.

I wonder if this is really related to our jobs so much. Look back 50 years ago and most women stayed at home. Yet they still had a longer life expectancy than the working husband. So, never having a job must not be too bad for you.
That said, I know if anyone ever told my mother that she didn't have a job she would be very quick to let you know that taking care of a home with 4 kids and a husband was indeed a job. She made this very clear to me one day when I misspoke.

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