I’ll just cite one example, this WSJ story, about an emerging fantasy in the public imagination. Its lede reveals the nightmare.
For all the benefits of retirement – less stress, fewer obligations, finally the time and money to travel the world – new research paints a somewhat bleaker picture. Without careful attention and some preventative steps, retirement, it turns out, may take quite the toll on our faculties.
If you spend anytime viewing the pop press, you’ve seen this same idea expressed with different words. Retirement makes you stupid.
Except if you read the scientific literature you discover that there’s no good science to support this assertion. Only glib, facile, and young epidemiologists reading the tea leaves. Like this one.
Here’s the abstract.
Background Occupational work involves many factors capable of protecting cognition. The ‘disuse’ hypothesis suggests that removal of such factors at retirement may increase the risk of cognitive decline.
Objective To examine whether retirement is significantly associated with cognitive change after adjusting for preretirement cognitive function, personal, social, health and lifestyle factors, work characteristics and leisure activity.
Methods Participants were from the Whitehall II study, a prospective study of London-based Civil Servants. Short-term memory, the AH4 Part 1 (a test of inductive reasoning), verbal fluency and the Mill Hill Vocabulary Scale were collected at ages 38–60 years, and again, on average 5 years later, at 42–67 years, providing pre- and postretirement cognitive functioning assessments for 2031 participants (470 retired and 1561 working). Linear regression was used to test the association between retirement and cognitive performance adjusted for preretirement cognition.
Results Mean cognitive test scores increased between the two assessments. However, after adjusting for age, sex, education, occupational social class, Mill Hill score, work characteristics, leisure activities, and indicators of physical and mental health, those retired showed a trend towards smaller test score increases over 5 years than those still working, although this only reached 5% significance in one test (AH4; β=−0.7, 95% CI −1.2 to −0.09) and did not show a dose–response effect with respect to length of time in retirement.
Conclusions This trend is consistent with the disuse hypothesis but requires independent replication before it can be accepted as supportive in this respect.
Editor’s Note: Insert the Dancer’s Laugh About Here.
If you read the literature on Retirement Robs Your Mind, you know this study is hey diddle diddle right down the middle. Convenience sampling. Huge numbers of cases. Lots of adjusting (and in public no less!). And what do you get?
Despite analyzing multiple indicators of cognitive function, jimmied, shaken and stirred with adjustments, and using the most lenient and misleading marker of “significance,” the researchers find only one test that reaches the 0.05 alpha level. Cue up the
Small Pitiful Effects drum roll. Worse, there is no dose-response finding, meaning that the effect does not change over time even though that what the Nightmare asserts. Thus, researchers using a shotgun filled with double ought buckshot fired multiple rounds at the broadside of a barn from a distance of five feet and just nicked a plank with one pellet.
Yet, they write.
This trend is consistent with the disuse hypothesis but requires independent replication before it can be accepted as supportive in this respect.
Editor’s Note: Insert Dancer’s Laugh Here Again.
If you want to understand declining cognitive effects and what you can do for yourself, for someone you love, or for callow epidemiologists, please consult the work of Tim Salthouse. And, if you don’t want to read the whole thing, here’s the Headline: Aging Beats Everything. The rock of your body is rolling downhill and if you are doing NYT crossword puzzles at work, the effect is only psychological.
Okay, so science says we’re all getting older and we will get that narrator quote at the start of Citizen Kane (at 8:45, “. . . as it must to all men, death came to Charles Foster Kane.”). What’s this got to do with persuasion?
Well, of course, All Bad Science Is Persuasive. Yeah, that’s obvious.
And, now, consider the persuasion opportunities for selling Longer Minds. Man, if you thought it was shooting fish in a barrel with Lifestyle and Mortality, think about the persuasion spaces for Puzzles and Cognition! Even young people worry about losing their minds, so this isn’t just a Boomer or BoomerPlus generation thing. In fact, I suspect the persuasion box here is easier with the under 60 crowd. Old Boomers have already seen the dimming of the light even with all those NYT puzzles. Kids don’t know it yet, but still fear it. All you need to do is read the epi literature on aging and cognition to find The Cure.
This is too easy.
P.S. The Dancer’s Laugh is heard at the end of this Paula Adbul YouTube video. It’s the expert’s mark of derision.