Complex jobs linked to better memory in old age

A long-term study in Scotland suggests that people with more complex jobs have fewer difficulties with memory and thinking in later life.

Posted on 19th November 2014

A long-term study in Scotland suggests that people with more complex jobs have fewer difficulties with memory and thinking in later life. The study is published in Neurology on 19 November.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh looked at the careers of 1,066 people who are part of the 1936 Lothian Birth Cohort. The 1936 Lothian Birth Cohort is a group of 1,091 people who took part in an IQ test at the age of 11 and have taken part in a variety of tests throughout their lives, allowing researchers to look at how intelligence and lifestyle factors affect health as we age.

In this study, researchers found that those with more difficult jobs prior to retirement performed better on memory and thinking skills tests at the age of 70 than those with less complex professions. The researchers used the ‘Dictionary of Occupational Titles’ to score the wide variety of jobs held by members of the 1936 birth cohort. Jobs were assessed according to the complexity of tasks involving data, people and things.

The researchers found that those who performed more complicated tasks, for example synthesising data as opposed to comparing data, mentoring staff as opposed to taking instructions, or setting-up things as opposed to object handling, performed better on memory and thinking tests at the age of 70. They also found that those who worked with data or people performed better on the memory and thinking tests than people who performed manual tasks. The analysis took into account other factors that may alter memory and thinking skills, such as education and deprivation. However, it was clear that some of the association between job complexity and cognition could be accounted for by IQ at the age of 11; those with higher cognitive skills at the age of 11 were more likely to take on more complex jobs as adults.

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:

“This study adds to growing evidence about factors that could influence brain health as we age. Keeping the brain active throughout life could be helpful and different types of work may play a role. However, it’s important to note that this study points to a small and subtle association between occupation and later-life cognition rather than offering proof that people’s occupation has a direct influence. Also, the people in the study didn’t have dementia, so it would be important to learn more from follow-up studies about any potential protective effects.

“Dementia affects over 830,000 people in the UK but research into the condition remains significantly underfunded in comparison to other common diseases. Continued support for funding is crucial so that we can find the answers.”

Posted in Science news