Results of a new study provide additional motivation for senior living communities to try to keep residents engaged, even in these times of restricted visits and social distancing.

Researchers found that women who tend to disengage from difficult tasks and goals after they retire may be at greater risk of cognitive decline as they age.

“There are many opportunities to engage in mentally stimulating activities in retirement, such as reading or playing word games,” said lead author Jeremy Hamm, Ph.D., of North Dakota State University. “However, personal agency and motivation may come to the fore at this stage of the lifespan since these activities often need to be self-initiated and autonomously maintained.”

Hamm and colleagues’ study, published online Monday by the American Psychological Association journal Psychology and Aging, analyzed a subset of data from national Midlife in the United States survey to examine the differences in cognitive function between retired adults and similar others who chose to continue working past retirement age. Participants also took a test by telephone to measure basic cognitive functions, such as memory, reasoning and processing speed.

Researchers measured the level of goal disengagement, or people’s tendency to lower their ambitions and decrease commitment to personal goals. The study found that retired women who were prone to disengagement had steeper declines in cognitive functioning than peers who remained employed. No differences emerged between retired and working men who were prone to disengagement, however; their higher socioeconomic status may have protected them from early declines, Hamm said.