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Use It or Lose It

Mike Drak

THERE’S AN EXPERIENCE I keep thinking about. I was visiting Italy pre-pandemic, enjoying a great dinner with a lovely family. I was introduced to two nonnas—grandmothers in Italian—who were in their 80s. Although fine physically, they were both suffering from dementia.

That got me thinking about how that could have happened. I’ve read plenty of research on how retiring to a simple lifestyle, and not being challenged mentally, accelerates cognitive decline. I wondered whether that’s what happened to the two nonnas. Their lives consisted of living the same day over and over, following the same basic routine for the last 60-plus years. They were rarely taxed mentally.

My contention: It’s a mistake to let the fire go out when we retire. Transitioning from a mentally challenging job to a sedentary lifestyle, where you spend a lot of time sitting around watching TV or on social media, is going to cost you.

I’m saddened when I see new retirees intentionally dumbing down their minds, trying to adjust to the slower pace of their new lives, because I fear that’ll only accelerate the decaying process. You can see it in their eyes, and in how they talk and act. They’re shells of their former selves. They’ve lost their spark, energy, inspiration and excitement about life, and it’s sad to see that happening.

When we stop growing intellectually, our memory fades, our cognitive ability diminishes and our brain physically shrinks. That is why it’s so important to create a retirement lifestyle that engages and challenges us, one that forces us to use our brain the same way we did while working. Don’t feel like you’re exerting yourself mentally? You might even consider going back to school.

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