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Mentally stimulating occupations are the key to preventing dementia




Mentally stimulating occupations are the key to preventing dementia

The old adage “use it or lose it” seems to apply to our mental abilities as well as our physical abilities.

A new study has found that people who use their brains more at work are better protected against cognitive problems and dementia that can occur with age. The findings were reported by a team based on Columbia University Mailman School of Public Healththe Columbia Aging Centerand the Norwegian Institute of Public Healthand emphasize the importance of mental stimulation during middle age for maintaining cognitive function in old age.

More than 7,000 volunteers aged 70 and over, working in 305 professions, took part in the study. They took standard memory and thinking tests and were classified as having no cognitive impairment, mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or dementia. After adjusting for age, sex and education, the group with low cognitive demands at work had a 66% greater risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and a 31% greater risk of dementia after age 70, compared with those in the most vulnerable groups. mentally demanding roles.

Among the most cognitively stimulating jobs were teaching and lecturing at university, while the least mentally challenging jobs were those that involved repetitive manual labor, such as cleaning and road work, or delivering the mail.

“Our study highlights the importance of mentally challenging tasks to maintain cognitive functioning in later life,” said population economist and social scientist Vegard Skirbekk, professor of population and family health at Columbia University and senior researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. .

Interestingly, higher levels of education had somewhat of a protective effect, as shown in previous studies.

“Education moderated most, but not all, of the associations between occupational cognitive demands and MCI and dementia, suggesting that both education and occupational complexity matter for MCI and dementia risk,” said Trine Edwin, a postdoctoral fellow and lead author of the study. doctor who studies geriatrics Oslo University Hospital.

According to Professor Skirbekk, Dr Edwin and colleagues, better educated people are more likely to lead healthier lives, and education itself appears to build a ‘cognitive reserve’, namely the ability to improvise and find alternative ways of doing things . Skills can help prevent mental decline, just as physical exertion delays frailty.

Although concerning, this study suggests that even if we work boring, repetitive jobs, we can still escape dementia in the future if we invest our free time in furthering our education and pursuing more cognitively challenging pursuits outside of work.

“It’s not that you’re doomed or you’re not – we can empower people for their later cognitive health with education and tasks that are cognitively stimulating,” Dr. emphasized. Edwin.

“It really shows how important work is. It’s important to go to work and use your brain, and to use your brain to learn new things.”

This study has some weaknesses. It is associative and therefore does not convincingly identify the actual causes of dementia. Furthermore, this study does not distinguish between the different types of cognitive demands associated with similar occupations and also ignores the future evolution of work responsibilities. Nevertheless, it does highlight the role of lifelong cognitive engagement in reversing cognitive decline as we age.

“Overall, our research shows that high occupational cognitive demands are associated with lower risks of MCI and dementia later in life,” said Professor Skirbekk. Furthermore, this study strengthens already existing evidence regarding the link between mental stimulation and cognitive health across a person’s lifespan.

“However, we recommend further research to validate these findings to identify the specific cognitive demands at work that are most beneficial for maintaining cognitive health in old age.”


Trine H. Edwin, Asta K. Håberg, Ekaterina Zotcheva, Bernt Bratsberg, Astanand Jugessur, Bo Engdahl, Catherine Bowen, Geir Selbæk, Hans-Peter Kohler, Jennifer R. Harris, Sarah E. Tom, Steinar Krokstad, Teferi Mekonnen, Yaakov Stern, Vegard F. Skirbekk and Bjørn H. Strand (2024). Trajectories of occupational cognitive demands and risk of mild cognitive impairment and dementia in later life, Neurology | doi:10.1212/WNL.000000000020935

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