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Find enjoyment, motivation to stay sharp in retirement

October 7, 2013

For many seniors, staying physically fit is only one aspect of healthy aging. Maintaining a sharp mind is also an important facet of retirement, and it's one that some older adults may find difficult to achieve. Without a full-time job to go to, some retirees may see an obstacle in their way to staying sharp later in life. However, experts say there are a number of ways for seniors to maintain their cognitive function, and according to a recent study from Concordia University, motivation is the greatest factor.

Seek out enjoyment
To understand how seniors can best stay sharp, researchers analyzed data concerning more than 330 adults with an average age of 59. Over the course of one year, the team administered assessments that measured the participants' levels of motivation, cognitive function and activities. By the end of the study, researchers came to several conclusions. For starters, they determined that the more seniors seek out, and enjoy, cognitively stimulating activities, the better shape their mental function will be in. Additionally, they determined that a variety of activity plays a role in the quality of their cognitive abilities. Finally, they found that even mild signs of depression are tied to a decreased likelihood of staying mentally sharp. Study authors hope the findings spur positive change. 

"It is my hope that these results will influence the design of future interventions aimed at maintaining the cognitive health of retirees," author Larry Baer said. "This can be done by focusing on getting people to intensify their engagement in a variety of cognitive activities even if they have lower levels of motivation to do so."

Opportunities available
There are a growing number of opportunities available to seniors who are looking to stay sharp as they get older, and one of the most popular options is through continuing education programs. Heading back to the classroom offers seniors the chance to indulge their intellectual curiosity and pursue new areas of study they may not have had the chance to before they entered the workforce. In fact, the American Association of Community Colleges has been touting its Plus 50 initiative, which has encouraged community colleges across the country to improve their offerings for the 50-and-over crowd. Additionally, many colleges have partnered with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute to provide seniors with mentally stimulating and fulfilling classes.