Retirement Redesigned

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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Retirement Redesigned

HomeLearningOur New Friend: Neuroplasticity

Our New Friend: Neuroplasticity

Monday Deadline. Our cognitive decline is inevitable, or is it?

We all know that as we get older, we become less sharp. We are just not as quick or as smart as we used to be. There are things we were able to do when we were younger, that cannot be done anymore. We also believe that once we start the decline of cognitive ability, it doesn’t get any better. As we age further, we simply have to make peace with this because there is no going back to the better days, and there is no reverse of the downhill process.

No more.

Recent research has established that our belief in these ‘facts’ over the years, has been wrong. Instead of assuming that one of the burdens of older age is the increasing slow-down and cognitive decline, a new finding is that the brain is much more pliable and capable of growth into old age.

In fact, a brain stimulated by increased mental activity will set up growth, and like physical exercise that builds physical muscles, it will build the mental muscles needed for new learning. Cognitive challenge leads to increased neural activity and the building of the neural scaffolding needed to regulate cognitive functioning.

What this means is that with some effort and determination people in retirement can increase their mental ability and not accept the age-old belief in an inevitable decline. It also means that the age of retirement can become a time for learning new skills and expanding our capabilities. Many of us in our working lives put off treasured goals like learning a new language, or learning to play an instrument, or any one of many private wishes just because we are too busy. Now we have to understand that with the great benefit of neuroplasticity we can do things we never thought possible in our senior years.

Some older people enjoy having the excuse of not needing to do anything requiring mental adjustment. They mention their age defensively, justifying their lack of ability. This is especially true about technical skills or anything operating in the new digital economy. This should no longer be an acceptable excuse

More ambitious seniors are thriving. It is widely reported that seniors are registering in academic programs in increasing numbers. They see the precious years of retirement as an opening to stimulate their curious minds and in many cases now, even acquiring new qualifications. A next career, unthinkable at this stage of life, only a few years ago, is now an increasing reality for those in retirement.

Life coaches and therapists working in the retirement space should make sure their clients are stretched and stimulated. Seniors who realize that they still have a long time in retirement and don’t simply want to cruise along toward the dusk of life must take some risks and expose themselves to the new adventurous experiences that can make their longer lives have meaningful purpose.

Johann is the founding partner of Reset Retirement where we focus on assisting people with planning for the non-financial aspects of their lives after full-time work. He had a long career in executive search and leadership as the founding partner and chairman of Heidrick & Struggles in South Africa where he was the head of the company’s board practice.


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