As we age, it can be a little jarring when you notice it's taking an extra second or two to find the right word or put a name to a familiar face. For many decades, scientists attributed these quirks to studies showing that mental speed peaks around age 20 and slowly declines thereafter.
However, a new body of research has found that the relationship between mental speed, cognition, and aging is actually more complicated, and more positive for seniors who are looking forward to a long and active retirement.
60 is the new 20.
A new report published in Nature Human Behaviour studied differences in cognition between 1.2 million participants. What researchers found is that, on average, our mental speed stays high until age 60.
Why the disconnect from all that old research?
According to the team behind this study, it's because previous research wasn't accounting for all of the external factors that go into how we process information and come to decisions.
For example, 20-year-old you might have been better at arriving at a decision quickly. But were those decisions the best possible decisions? In many cases, probably not. That’s because younger you was most likely a little more impulsive and open to risk than the more experienced you.
In your 60s, you're bringing a lifetime of accumulated wisdom and experience to the choices you make. Your reflexes have also slowed down a bit, which makes you more likely to "look before you leap.” Researchers also found that older people are more likely to get distracted and more susceptible to information overload.
So, ultimately, if you find yourself weighing decisions a little longer than you used to, it's not because your brain's processing power is slowing. It's because the information you're taking in has to pass through stronger filters that you've developed over time.
Another example: think about all the different hats you've worn since age 20. Back then, you probably thought of yourself as a college student, a son, a daughter, a friend, a part-time employee. Since then, you might have added roles like spouse, parent, executive, entrepreneur, professor, or engineer to your resume. All those roles have taught you something new about how to manage information, solve problems, and arrive at the best possible decision. No wonder it takes your brain a little bit longer to compute than it used to!
Live your best life longer.
I often describe retirement as having three phases:
In the Go-Go years, younger retirees explore everything that this new stage of life has to offer and cross some big items off their bucket lists.
In the Slow-Go years, aging retirees get used to physical, mental, and emotional changes that might take certain activities off the table. At this phase, it's not uncommon to start thinking about finding new outlets and activities that suit your abilities a little better, such as swapping long runs for long walks (which would have actually been better on the knees over the years anyway!).
And in the No-Go years, older retirees start to settle into home a little bit more so that they can focus on their comfort and long-term care – while ideally continuing to learn and grow through activities such as reading, studying and fellowship.
This new research doesn't change the fact that, the older we get, the more our bodies start to say No. But for adventurous and curious retirees who are willing to accept some limitations and make a few late-life pivots, there could still be a lot of "Go Go" in the later phases of retirement. According to the National Institute on Aging, mentally healthy older adults retain the ability to make new memories, learn new skills, and improve their vocabularies.
So, while your travel schedule might slow down once you hit your 80s, if you can stay up to date on the latest tech trends, you'll still be able to connect virtually to cultures and people all over the world. Once your joints are done with sports, you might take up watercolors, writing, or pursue an online degree. And with a little transportation help from friends and family, you'll still enjoy lasting memories from attending weddings, graduations, and maybe even your own 100th birthday!
As medicine gets better at detecting and treating illness, and as we continue to learn more about nutrition and exercise, your attitude towards aging is going to play a much bigger role in the possibilities available to you in retirement. That's why one of our major goals at Keen Wealth is to create comprehensive financial plans that can take some of the worry out of retirement and help those in the “second half” enjoy themselves more.
Get in touch and let’s talk about how our process can support you through every phase of your dream retirement.
Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 25 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.
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