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Retirement & Your Brain: The Emotional & Cognitive Factors that Come With the Transition
Healthy Living, Retirement Tips

Retirement & Your Brain: The Emotional & Cognitive Factors that Come With the Transition

Going to work each day provides structure, routine and stability. It’s also part of your identity. Think about it: When you’re in a social setting, and someone asks what you do, how do you respond?

Most people anticipate finances to be the biggest retirement hurdle. They don’t stop to consider how else life might change when the paychecks stop. And for some, that change can be unsettling. So, in honor of May’s designation as National Aging Life Care Month, we’re looking at how we can all be better prepared for the transition into retirement.

The pursuit of happiness

From stress to relief to joy, it’s normal to experience mixed emotions about retirement. AARP reports three emotional fear factors that accompany this major life transition:

  • Loss of professional status
  • Change in self-image
  • Concern over how to spend so much more free time

Some retirees might also feel the loss of social networks that were primarily made up of professional colleagues.

Individuals with strong spousal or partner relationships and an active social life are more likely to have an easier adjustment to retirement. People who develop new passions, maintain their hobbies or take part in volunteer opportunities are less likely to feel bored or lost with too much free time. But for those who spent most their life hard at work, retirement may be more of a challenge.

As lifelong dynamics change, it’s not uncommon to experience feelings of loneliness or even depression. It’s important to keep in mind that there’s a clear link between depression and cognitive decline.

Retirement and the cognitive connection

A major British study found that short-term memory can decline nearly 40% faster once employees become retirees, unless active steps are taken to prevent it. The good news? That might be as simple as practicing basic good-health habits:

  • Stay physically active
  • Eat a balanced diet low in saturated and trans fats
  • Get adequate sleep
  • Don’t smoke
  • Limit alcohol to one drink per day
  • Maintain social connections

In another study, a group of 70-to-80-year-olds were asked how often they practiced activities that required active mental engagement such as reading, writing, doing crossword puzzles or playing board games. Five years later, the researchers discovered that those who engaged most often in these types of activities were half as likely to develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI), compared to their less engaged peers.

Kate Granigan, CEO of MA-based LifeCare Advocates, which offers care management and other services for older adults and their families, agrees that staying engaged is vital to staving off MCI. “Having a purpose is critical,” she says, whether that’s giving back via volunteer work or finding a new application for your professional skill set.

In the last few years, Granigan, who also serves on the board of the Aging Life Care Association, has noted an interesting trend — younger audiences seeking information and resources on healthier aging for themselves rather than just for their parents.

She explains, “People are being more proactive, allowing for them to be in the driver’s seat,

if you will, when it comes to aging well, rather than waiting for a crisis or a shift in their own status or function. They want to better understand and plan for their options rather than limiting their choices due to poor planning or a lack of knowledge.”

Celebrating the vitality and contributions of older Americans

May also happens to be Older Americans Month — and this year’s theme is Connect, Create, Contribute, encouraging older adults and their communities to:

  • Connect with friends, family and services that support participation.
  • Create by engaging in activities that promote learning, health, and personal enrichment.
  • Contribute time, talent and life experience to benefit others.

That’s great advice for new retirees who may be struggling in adjusting to their “new normal.”

Staying engaged: There’s an app for that

In today’s ultra-tech world, there’s no lack of tools to help you stay mentally sharp. Consider innovative smartphone apps like these:

  • Words With Friends – A social version of Scrabble that lets you work on critical thinking while competing against friends or family.
  • Lumosity – An app that gauges your specific abilities via customized games and challenges, and tracks your progress along the way.
  • Elevate – A personalized set of exercises and mini-games to improve memory, focus and reading comprehension that are tailored to your desired results.
  • Cognifit – Brain games and challenges covering 23 different cognitive skills, plus a detailed report of your results.

These and many other brain-boosting apps can be found in the App Store or on Google Play.

And of course, there are so many other ways to connect, create and contribute. Try giving yourself the goal of doing something in each of those categories every day! For example: working on projects with loved ones that help you share and create meaningful memories. Or taking more full advantage of free or low-cost activities and resources in your community.

Making the transition to retirement financially feasible

There’s no doubt that emotional and cognitive factors play a significant role in retirement satisfaction. But the biggest concern for most is still financial vulnerability — will I be able to afford a comfortable, rewarding retirement? Are my funds enough or will I outlive my money?

For homeowners, an often-overlooked source of funds can be a reverse mortgage — a type of home-secured loan that can turn part of your built-up equity into funds you can use now, a steady stream of monthly funds, or a line of credit you can access as needed, now or in the future. Reverse mortgages are designed for homeowners age 62+, and provide benefits similar to a traditional home equity loan or home equity line of credit, along with a number of advantages specifically designed with the needs of retirees in mind — including a flexible repayment feature. You retain ownership of your home, continue to live there, and simply must meet your loan obligations of staying current with insurance, maintenance and property tax payments.

Curious if a reverse mortgage could help ease some of your financial concerns about retirement? An experienced loan specialist from Reverse Mortgage Funding can answer your questions when you call 888-277-1567 to set up a convenient in-person appointment.

This content is sponsored by RMF, one of the nation’s leading reverse mortgage lenders. We are dedicated to helping older Americans retire more freely, in the comfort of their own homes. As a result of our commitment to providing an extraordinary and positive customer experience, we have earned a 98% customer satisfaction rating;** a 5-star / Excellent score on Trustpilot; 4.8 out of 5 stars on LendingTree; and an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau. Call 888-277-1567 to speak with a licensed reverse mortgage specialist to learn about our retirement financing products and solutions.


If you have equity in your home and believe you meet the eligibility requirements, a HECM may be the option that could help you retire smart.

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