Tuesday, April 14, 2009

How Old Is Too Old to Work?

“Debate about the ideal age to retire has been going on for years. But with the U.S. economy in a dramatic slump, the flip side of that question -- how old is too old to work? -- has become uppermost in many people's minds. As workers young and old fret about dwindling retirement accounts in the wake of the mortgage crisis and stock market tumbles, they joke that they'll have no choice but to work until they're 90 or beyond. But many also wonder: Will I be able to? Research has offered some reassurances. Researchers have learned that there is no ideal retirement age and that older adults who keep their thinking skills sharp by learning new things off the job can stay more competitive in the job market, too. ‘In today's economy, it becomes more of a necessity than a luxury to keep working,’ said Dr. Joseph Sirven, a professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. The short answer to the question, ‘How old is too old to work?’ is, Sirven said, ‘when you are not able to do the job.’ But there's much you can do to prevent that from happening, he and other experts have found. ‘What we find now from research and a neurological perspective is [that] the secret to good aging is, you have to keep busy,’ Sirven said. ‘Sometimes that means exercise, physical activity. But it means a lot of mental and cognitive activity’ also, he said. Today, Sirven said, older adults frequently retire from one career and transition into another -- something that's matched to their skills and experience and takes into account any age-related disadvantages. His advice for people who plan to work well beyond the traditional retirement age of 65: ‘Focus on what work can you do that you can keep up with as you age.’ Joy L. Taylor, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, stressed that keeping skills sharp can make a difference in on-the-job performance. She studied 118 noncommercial pilots, age 40 to 69, to determine how age affects cognitive performance in the real world. So, how to best ensure that you can work longer than average, if you have to or want to?Try constantly to learn new skills, Sirven suggested. ‘Pick up a new language, learn a new instrument,’ he said. ‘Give yourself a push to try something new.’ And Taylor had additional ideas. ‘Keep your work-related skills, exercise, and eat the best diet, a heart-healthy diet,’ she said. ‘Our emphasis is on physical health as well as cognitive health and stimulation -- both being equally important.’”


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