Retirement or Retreat to Senility?
> 12/16/2005 11:05:42 PM

I for one don't get retirement. It implies that one stops working. I don't want to stop working; I love my work and have no desire to stop working. Retirement is a contrivance of the 19th and 20th century designed I'm sure to appease capitalistic strivings or the misguided creation of the pro-labor movement to support the working stiff. Well I for one say at age 80 I hope to be better than ever. You think that I am deluded? Well science is certainly pushing the potential to redefine the aging process. The new Scientist has an article titled "How brainpower can help you cheat old age" that explores neurological studies from the past few years,

"for example, epidemiologists have confirmed that people with high literacy and IQ cope better with the progress of Alzheimer's disease. They also recover from stroke, head injury, intoxication and poisoning with neurotoxins more rapidly than the average person. Meanwhile, neuroscientists are making headway using brain scans to discover the biological underpinnings of cognitive reserve. For anyone hoping to enjoy a ripe old age, the implications are huge - especially if you could predict how much cognitive reserve you had left, and could then take action to ratchet it up."
"It seems paradoxical, then, that once people with high IQ, good education or occupational achievement are diagnosed with dementia, they tend to go downhill unusually fast. Stern, for example, has looked at the impact of Alzheimer's disease on well-educated people and found that they seem to die sooner after diagnosis than people without good education. But psychologist Michael Rutter from the Institute of Psychiatry in London points out that this is compatible with the idea of cognitive reserve. "It's not that people with high education and with Alzheimer's disease deteriorate faster." What is happening, he says, is that by the time symptoms appear, these people are at a relatively late stage of the disease. If you measure the progress of the disease by plaques and tangles, they are already far gone. As long as they have cognitive reserve in the bank, outward signs are not apparent."
"Richards has found that social class, occupation and education at age 26 help shape cognitive ability at age 53. The upbeat conclusion is that education makes a difference to cognitive performance later in life, and this almost certainly equates to a higher cognitive reserve. "Education works," says Richards. Stern would agree: he thinks that education may be critical in training people to recruit the alternative mental networks that enable them to compensate for damage or disease. "Cognitive reserve is not something you are born with," he says. "It's something that changes, and can be modified over time."

So if this concept of "cognitive reserve" is true and there is no reason to believe it isn't, why would you ever want to retire. The notion of building "cognitive reserve" does not suddenly stop at age 60 or 70. The brain needs constant stimulus to build new neural networks and connections and that activity, certainly, should not be placed into retirement. Work, more so than any other activity permits the constant exposure to new ideas, challenges as well as social interest. The potential to be mentally active in retirement exists but the mind set of retirement promotes a less diligent approach to life.

The need to develop a career which can endure the life cycle  is a major challenge that should be considered as one turns 50. The question should be asked: Can I do this work when I am 90?  This requires an evolving career path for some people and this consideration should shape one's work choice for the second 50 years of life.

Ray Kurzweil in his new book Fantastic Voyage: Live long enough to live forever believes that man could theoretically live forever. He is an optimistic man who has to be taken seriously given his prodigious "cognitive reserve". I am sure he has no intention of "retiring".

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