Older workers with mental decline more likely to develop chronic illness, retire early

Aug. 13 (UPI) — For older workers, the decline of both mental and physical ability seems to go hand and hand, new research shows.

Workers over 60 who aren’t able to handle tough mental tasks on the job are likely to develop chronic health conditions, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.

This mismatch of waning mental capacity and complex tasks, the researchers say, may be pushing older employees into early retirement.

“When their reasoning abilities matched the demands of their job, older adults experienced fewer health issues and worked longer than adults who did not have the necessary reasoning abilities to perform their job,” Margaret Beier, a researcher at Rice University and study lead author, said in a news release. “Experienced workers offer much in terms of knowing the company culture and being able to mentor younger employees, so it is vital that we look into the best ways to extend their careers and improve their health outcomes.”

Researchers analyzed health data and retirement status for 383 people at an average age of 61 collected as part of the Cognition and Aging in the USA survey.

The researchers evaluated 13 different factors to measure the participants cognitive ability, which included verbal analogies, numbers series and calculations. They also gauged the participants’ ability to perform job tasks using the O*NET database, a measure of attributes needed to fulfill the duties of various jobs in the United States.

Finally, the participants reported whether they had one of nine health conditions, including arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and lung disease.

“We found that a poor fit between reasoning abilities and job demands might cause older workers to experience stress and strain that serves to push them out of the workforce,” Beier said.

The researchers warn employers to be aware of giving complex tasks to older employees because some may not be able to handle the job.

“With the average age of retirement increasing across the country and the older population itself becoming a larger portion of the population, it is important that we study how the demands placed on older workers in the workforce should match their abilities,” Beier said.

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