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Cognitive stimulation at work helps prevent memory problems 

A recent study led by the Oslo University Hospital in Norway has suggested that engaging in mentally stimulating work may reduce the risk of memory and thinking problems in later life. 

The study does not establish that such work definitively prevents mild cognitive impairment. However, the research indicates a significant association between cognitive stimulation at work and lower risks of these age-related issues.

“The cognitive reserve hypothesis posits that cognitively stimulating work delays the onset of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and dementia. However, the effect of occupational cognitive demands across midlife on the risk of these conditions is unclear,” wrote the study authors. 

The experts set out to analyze the impact of job-related cognitive demands on later life cognitive health

“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,” explained lead author Trine Holt Edwin, a medical doctor and researcher at the Oslo University Hospital. 

“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.”

Levels of cognitive stimulation at work

The study encompassed 7,000 individuals and 305 different occupations across Norway, measuring the level of cognitive stimulation participants experienced in their professions. This included assessing tasks categorized as routine manual, routine cognitive, non-routine analytical, and non-routine interpersonal. 

Routine manual tasks typically involve speed and repetitive motions, as seen in factory work, while routine cognitive tasks require precision in repetitive roles such as bookkeeping or filing. 

Non-routine analytical tasks involve information analysis, creative thinking, and interpretation, necessary in fields like computer programming and public relations. Non-routine interpersonal tasks are focused on relationship management, motivation, and coaching.

Cognitive stimulation across various professions

Participants were grouped based on the cognitive demands of their jobs, with teachers frequently representing the group with the highest cognitive demands and mail carriers and custodians often representing the group with the lowest.

Following their 70th birthday, participants underwent tests to evaluate memory and cognitive abilities to determine if they had developed mild cognitive impairment. The findings showed that 42% of those in the lowest cognitive demand group were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, compared to 27% in the highest group.

Lowest cognitive stimulation group 

Adjusting for factors such as age, sex, education, income, and lifestyle, the scientists found that individuals in the lowest cognitive stimulation group had a 66% higher risk of mild cognitive impairment than those in the highest group.

“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.”

One limitation of the study is the potential variance within job roles, as individuals with the same job title may perform different tasks and experience varying levels of cognitive demands.

Health benefits of cognitive stimulation 

Cognitive stimulation offers several notable benefits, particularly for older adults and those dealing with cognitive impairments. Here are some of the key advantages:

Improved cognitive function

Engaging in activities that challenge the brain can help maintain and even improve cognitive functions such as memory, reasoning, and problem-solving skills.

Delay in cognitive decline

For individuals with mild cognitive impairment or early stages of dementia, cognitive stimulation can slow the progression of symptoms. This is crucial for maintaining independence and quality of life.

Enhanced communication skills

Activities often involve social interaction and communication, which can enhance verbal skills and the ability to engage with others effectively.

Increased engagement and motivation

Cognitive stimulation activities can help reduce feelings of isolation or depression by keeping individuals engaged with their surroundings and other people.

Emotional benefits

Participating in stimulating activities can boost self-esteem and mood, providing a sense of accomplishment and pleasure.

Better quality of life

By regularly participating in cognitive stimulation, individuals can enjoy a range of mental and emotional benefits that contribute to a more satisfying and independent life.

The study is published in the journal Neurology.


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