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Cognitive Aging: A Primer

Anek Belbase and Geoffrey Sanzenbacher

Issues in Brief from Center for Retirement Research

Abstract: Cognitive aging has received growing attention in recent years as many researchers have documented a significant age-related decline in the brain’s processing ability. This decline could potentially undermine retirement security in two ways: 1) by limiting the ability to work longer; and 2) by eroding the capacity to manage finances in retirement. This brief summarizes the explosion of recent research on cognitive aging by answering basic questions about what researchers are learning and why their findings matter to retirement experts and the public. This overview is the first brief in a series of three; the other two will focus on how cognitive aging affects the ability of individuals to work between ages 50-70 and to handle personal finances between ages 70-90. The discussion proceeds as follows. The first section introduces definitions and measures of cognitive ability. The second section discusses how researchers identify changes in cognitive ability with age, while the third summarizes their findings. The fourth section discusses how age-related changes in different cognitive capacities can affect real-world performance. The final section concludes that: 1) most older workers can maintain their productivity up to age 70, although they will generally need more time to learn new skills or concepts; and 2) many retirees can continue to manage their own financial affairs in their 70s and 80s, though about one quarter will likely develop a cognitive impairment that will pose a threat to their financial independence.

Pages: 10 pages
Date: 2016-11
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-age and nep-neu
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