Having a challenging job could prevent dementia: It helps keep brain active and slows the rate of decline in memory and thinking, study says

  • Study was carried out by researchers at the University of Leipzig  
  • Found those with challenging jobs had half the rate of decline in memory
  • Those at less risk of dementia were doctors, lawyers, architects and teachers 

People with demanding jobs may be protected against dementia, say researchers.

Those with challenging work had half the rate of decline in memory and thinking in later life compared to those in mentally undemanding work.

Lead researcher Dr Francisca Then at the University of Leipzig said ‘Our study is important because it suggests that the type of work you do throughout your career may have even more significance on your brain health than your education does.

Doctors and nurses in demanding jobs could help them prevent dementia in later life, according to a new study (file pic) 

Doctors and nurses in demanding jobs could help them prevent dementia in later life, according to a new study (file pic) 

‘Education is a well-known factor that influences dementia risk.

‘Challenges at work may indeed be a positive element, if they build up a person’s mental reserve in the long-term.’

Doctors have long held that keeping your brain active could be the best insurance against developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Workers doing more complex jobs including doctors, lawyers, architects and teachers were found to be less at risk of dementia in later life, according to a study last year from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.

Another international study found speaking a second language may delay dementia by five years.

Researchers have debated whether a more stimulating environment may build up a person’s ‘cognitive reserve’, acting as a buffer allowing the brain to function in spite of damage, or whether people with higher thinking skills tend to go into more challenging occupations.

The latest study, in the journal Neurology involved 1,054 people over the age of 75 who were quizzed about their work history and their tasks were divided into three groups - executive, verbal and fluid.

Executive tasks included scheduling work and activities, developing strategies and resolving conflicts.

Doctors have long held that keeping your brain active could be the best insurance against developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia (file image)

Doctors have long held that keeping your brain active could be the best insurance against developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia (file image)

Examples of verbal tasks were evaluating and interpreting information while fluid tasks were those which included selective attention and analysing data.

The group was given tests that measured their memory and thinking abilities every one-and-a-half years for eight years.

Memory and thinking abilities were examined through a clinical test, the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), in which low or declining scores are used to help diagnose dementia.

Results found those whose careers included the highest level of all three types of tasks scored more on the thinking and memory tests over people with the lowest level.

People with the highest level of all three types of tasks also had the slowest rate of cognitive decline and over eight years.

Their rate of decline was half the rate of participants with a low level of mentally demanding work tasks.

Among the three types of work tasks, high levels of executive and verbal tasks were significantly associated with slower rates of memory and thinking decline.

People with a high level of executive tasks scored two MMSE points higher on memory and thinking tests at the beginning of the study and five MMSE points higher after eight years in the study compared to those who had a low level of these tasks.

Those with a high level of verbal tasks declined an average two MMSE points less than used to a low level.

In Britain, around 830,000 people have dementia, with most suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Previous research has found regular exercise can cut the risk of developing dementia, while other studies suggest keeping the brain active by doing crosswords, playing cards and computer work.

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