We all want to stay sharp. Cognitive functioning is a key part of healthy aging. But is working longer helpful or harmful to your brain health? Well, it depends. In this episode of our retirement podcast, Dawn Carr of Florida State University discusses her insights from new research on the impact of working into retirement with different types of jobs. She also talks about what may happen when people unretire and return to work. Dawn also shares her advice on how to stay sharp based on research.
Dawn C. Carr is an associate professor at Florida State University in the Department of Sociology and faculty associate at Pepper Institute for Aging and Public Policy. Carr’s expertise lies in understanding the factors that bolster older adults’ ability to remain healthy and active as long as possible. With Kathrin Komp, Carr published “Gerontology in the Era of the Third Age: Implications and Next Steps” in 2011, a text dedicated to exploring the relevance, purpose, and factors that contributed to the emergence of a new period of life following one’s career but prior to onset of frailty in later life.
Her recent work focuses on understanding the complex pathways between health and active engagement during later life, including the impact of key transitions in health, productivity, and caregiving. Before joining Florida State University in 2016, she was a researcher at the Stanford Center on Longevity, a postdoctoral fellow in the Carolina Program for Health and Aging Research at the Institute on Aging at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a researcher at Scripps Gerontology Center.
Carr received her Ph.D. in Social Gerontology and Master’s in Gerontological Studies at Miami University, and Bachelor of Arts in Music Performance at Arizona State University.
On Staying Sharp
“What we know is that there are three really important ingredients for maintaining cognitive function, not just in later life but across our lives. And one is staying physically active.… The blood flow in our brains is affected by physical activity and we know that this has a beneficial effect on cognitive function. And the more regularly we stay engaged in physical activity and avoid sedentary behavior, this seems to be very beneficial.
So, you don’t think about staying mentally sharp by exercising, but there’s a certain amount of evidence that suggests that just continuing to stay physically active matters. The second…surprising thing that we know in research about maintaining cognitive function is the importance of social interactions.
People who have very active social lives are able to keep their cognitive function longer. So, they’re able to not only arrive in later life with higher levels of cognitive function, but they also seem to maintain it longer if they continue to stay socially active.”
Brains age better among retirees with complex jobs – Florida State University
Carr, D. C., Willis, R., Kail, B. L., & Carstensen, L. L. (2019). Alternative Retirement Paths and Cognitive Performance: Exploring the Role of Preretirement Job Complexity. The Gerontologist.
Sims, T., Reed, A. E., & Carr, D. C. (2017). Information and communication technology use is related to higher well-being among the oldest-old. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 72(5), 761-770.