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Thought Provoking Work May Reduce Later Life Cognitive Decline – Neuroscience News

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Summary: Engaging in complex, thought-provoking work may lower the risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in older age. Conducted by researchers at Oslo University Hospital, the study analyzed job demands of over 7,000 people across 305 occupations in Norway, linking higher cognitive job demands in one’s 30s through 60s to a reduced incidence of MCI post-70.

The research categorized jobs by the nature of tasks—routine manual, routine cognitive, non-routine analytical, and non-routine interpersonal—with teaching, a high cognitive demand job, showing lower rates of MCI compared to less demanding roles like mail carrying. Adjustments for demographic and lifestyle factors still showed a 66% higher risk of MCI in those with the least cognitively demanding jobs.

Key Facts:

  1. The study involved an extensive demographic, assessing cognitive job demands and their impact on 7,000 individuals aged 70 and above.
  2. Participants in the highest cognitive demand jobs had a significantly lower rate of mild cognitive impairment (27%) compared to those in the lowest demand jobs (42%).
  3. The research supports the notion that intellectually stimulating work can serve as a protective factor against cognitive decline later in life, although further studies are needed to identify specific beneficial tasks.

Source: AAN

The harder your brain works at your job, the less likely you may be to have memory and thinking problems later in life, according to a new study published in the April 17, 2024, online issue of Neurology.

This study does not prove that stimulating work prevents mild cognitive impairment. It only shows an association.

“We examined the demands of various jobs and found that cognitive stimulation at work during different stages in life—during your 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s—was linked to a reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment after the age of 70,” said study author Trine Holt Edwin, MD, PhD, of Oslo University Hospital in Norway.

“Our findings highlight the value of having a job that requires more complex thinking as a way to possibly maintain memory and thinking in old age.”

The study looked at 7,000 people and 305 occupations in Norway.

Researchers measured the degree of cognitive stimulation that participants experienced while on the job. They measured the degree of routine manual, routine cognitive, non-routine analytical, and non-routine interpersonal tasks, which are skill sets that different jobs demand.

Routine manual tasks demand speed, control over equipment, and often involve repetitive motions, typical of factory work. Routine cognitive tasks demand precision and accuracy of repetitive tasks, such as in bookkeeping and filing.

Non-routine analytical tasks refer to activities that involve analyzing information, engaging in creative thinking and interpreting information for others. Non-routine interpersonal tasks refer to establishing and maintaining personal relationships, motivating others and coaching. Non-routine cognitive jobs include public relations and computer programing.

Researchers divided participants into four groups based on the degree of cognitive stimulation that they experienced in their jobs.

The most common job for the group with the highest cognitive demands was teaching. The most common jobs for the group with the lowest cognitive demands were mail carriers and custodians.

After age 70, participants completed memory and thinking tests to assess whether they had mild cognitive impairment. Of those with the lowest cognitive demands, 42% were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. Of those with the highest cognitive demands, 27% were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment.

After adjustment for age, sex, education, income and lifestyle factors, the group with the lowest cognitive demands at work had a 66% higher risk of mild cognitive impairment compared to the group with the highest cognitive demands at work.  

“These results indicate that both education and doing work that challenges your brain during your career play a crucial role in lowering the risk of cognitive impairment later in life,” Edwin said.

“Further research is required to pinpoint the specific cognitively challenging occupational tasks that are most beneficial for maintaining thinking and memory skills.”

A limitation of the study was that even within identical job titles, individuals might perform different tasks and experience different cognitive demands.

Funding: The study is supported by the National Institutes of Health.

About this cognition and aging research news

Author: Natalie Conrad
Source: AAN
Contact: Natalie Conrad – AAN
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: The findings will appear in Neurology

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