Hi Ho, Hi Ho, Alons nous a travailler!

From France comes an interesting study linking retirement age and Alzheimer’s risk. Results from INSERM were presented at Alzheimer’s Association’s 2013 International Conference in Boston.

They found that delaying retirement by a year reduced the risk of dementia by 3.2%, and the effect is cumulative: the overall risk reduction was 14%. That’s a pretty significant impact!

Back in 2008, I was lucky to be present when the late Dr. C. Everett Koop gave an interview for the film I was editing at the time: New York Street Games. He was about 92 at the time, but still sharp as a tack. Off camera, he discussed the secret to his longevity: work. All his friends who had retired, he said, were dead. He made a point to keep on working. Clearly, he was on to something!

Now, my Mom’s Alzheimer’s came on strong 3 years ago, when she was about 84. She was still publishing papers into her late 70’s. I am certain that her diligence helped delay onset of symptoms. In hindsight, I can see lots of early signs that I hoped – wishfully – were just signs of ordinary aging.

It’s also likely that the progress of my Mom’s disease is an example of the benefit of ‘cognitive reserve‘: the idea that factors such as a life of challenging mental work, speaking several languages, having a wide circle of friends, an active social life, and intellectually challenging hobbies can offset the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, even when the physical damage to the brain is present. In other words, people with deep cognitive reserve can have the disease without the symptoms.

This suggests that we can significantly reduce our future health-care cost burdens by providing people with enough education that they’re at least bilingual, and that they can pursue careers as knowledge workers instead of WalMart greeters and McD’s burger flippers. Doing so would very likely have tremendous knock-on benefits such as increased innovation, job creation, more highly skilled workforce, etc.

So here’s my plea to all the ‘fiscal conservatives’ in Washington: save money by investing wisely! Education before weapons, please!

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