Can working into your 80s keep your brain young?

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pics sarah lucy brown 3/11/11
UCS graduation ceremony for the School of Applied Soci

EADT/STAR pics sarah lucy brown 3/11/11 UCS graduation ceremony for the School of Applied Social Sciences at the Ipswich Corn Exchange. Actress June Brown was receiving her Honourary Degree. ES 4.11.11

Depending on your circumstances, retirement can be seen as a necessity, a luxury, or simply an inevitability.

Sir Bruce Forsyth

Sir Bruce Forsyth - Credit: Archant

Depending on your circumstances, retirement can be seen as a necessity, a luxury, or simply an inevitability.

But not everybody wants to stop working just because they’ve reached ‘retirement age’.

EastEnders legend June Brown, who grew up in Ipswich, is a case in point. According to the Daily Mirror, the actress, who plays Dot Branning in the BBC soap, has been approached by producers to cut her hours. But despite being 88 years old, the star is having none of it (her character’s currently in prison for killing son Nick, but is apparently due to be released later this year and will be as central to the storyline as ever). She’s not the only older person still clocking up hours in the showbiz world, of course. There’s Bruce Forsyth, 87, and Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, who are both 80. Then there’s the Queen, who, while she’s scaled back a bit in recent years, at 89, still has a very packed schedule.

Granted, being a royal, or a successful, well-paid actor is a world away from the work most people are familiar with, and there are plenty of jobs where retirement is far more appealing a prospect than carrying on - but if your health allows, and you enjoy your work, could sticking at it be the answer to staying young?


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As Henry Ford, American industrialist and founder of the Ford Motor Company, once said: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”

Why working keeps your brain young

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“Our minds need stimulation,” says renowned hypnotherapist and author Georgia Foster. “They need to be stretched as much as possible. When you stop utilising parts of your mind, it learns that it’s not needed.

“I think self-esteem is key to continuing to work as long as you want. Everybody wants to belong and the older generation in particular need to connect as much as possible. Loneliness can be a horrific burden and working can alleviate that.”

Dr Michael Spira, medical director and GP, agrees: “If retirement results in less physical and mental activity, which so often is the case, the brain may start to slow down, and this can lead to memory difficulties and confusion. If you have a job that you enjoy, try to hang onto it for as long as you can!”

What happens to your ‘grey matter’ when you retire?

“Retirement means you have to ‘reinvent’ yourself,” says Annie Kaszina, coach and author of Do You Choose Your Dog More Carefully Than Your Husband? “For some people that works really well, for others it does not; they struggle to find a sense of meaning and purpose. They feel less valuable in society’s eyes. One of the questions we hear all the time is: ‘What do you do?’ It’s a question that presupposes your worth and interests are intimately connected with your working role, not who you are. While the capacity for heavy physical work may decline with age, the capacity for creative thinking does not. June Brown is a case in point. She is perfectly capable of deciding for herself when she needs to scale back. The country needs more icons like her and Bruce Forsyth in the public eye, to remind us that older just means more years on the clock. It doesn’t have to mean physically or mentally infirmity. Besides, working longer may well also save the Government money. A French government report suggests people who work longer are significantly less likely to suffer from dementia.”

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