Brainy Occupations Can Save Your Memory

Back to ArticlesArticles
Brainy Occupations Can Save Your Memory about undefined

Whether you hold on to your memory and thinking skills later in life could depend on the occupation you pursued during your career. The science shows that chances are much higher for a teacher or university lecturer to maintain cognitive function in their later years than for someone working in a physical job, such as a janitor or mail carrier.

Researchers set out to learn why and what they discovered can help you save your memory no matter your chosen profession. It all comes down to a term we write about a lot: cognitive reserve.

Building a Resilient, “Muscular” Brain

Some people think the brain is a muscle; after all, we use terms like “exercise your brain.” But your brain is not a muscle it’s an organ made up of billions of neurons that control your body down to the tiniest molecule. However, your brain cells do need exercise to build resilience in the face of aging and environmental onslaught.

What we mean is that your brain needs to be challenged; otherwise, it will turn into the equivalent of a weak, flabby muscle, unable to perform the tasks it was designed for.

We’ve reported many times on this ‘use it or lose it’ principle and the need to build your cognitive reserve ‘muscle,’ which allows your brain to improvise and create new pathways of cellular function to overcome cellular losses and the regular cognitive changes of aging.

So, how do you build a “muscular” brain?

We previously showed how delaying retirement and keeping your brain busy could prevent cognitive decline. But what’s unclear is whether the type of work people perform influences their risk for dementia.

To find out, a team of scientists at Columbia University and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health studied more than 7,000 men and women aged 70 and over who, when they were aged 30 to 65, worked a job among 305 different occupations.

The Columbia and Norwegian teams examined the extent of cognitive stimulation from each job and assessed whether this later influenced the participants’ risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and dementia.

The High Demands of Teaching and Lecturing

They divided jobs into four skill sets:1

  • Routine manual: Repetitive motion, speed, and control over equipment typically seen in factory work.
  • Routine cognitive: Precision and accuracy of repetitive tasks such as bookkeeping and filing.
  • Non-routine cognitive: Analyzing information, creative thinking, interpreting information. Occupations would include public relations and computer programming.
  • Non-routine interpersonal: Establishing and maintaining personal relationships, motivating others, coaching.

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

After age 70, participants completed memory and thinking tests to assess whether they had MCI or dementia. The findings demonstrate how important it is to engage the brain.

Brain Stimulating Work is Highly Protective

Among participants with jobs requiring the lowest cognitive demands, 42 percent were diagnosed with MCI, but for those with the highest cognitive demands, only 27 percent received this diagnosis.

After the researchers adjusted the stats to consider dementia risk factors, they found the group with the lowest cognitive demands during their working lives had a 66 percent higher risk of MCI and a 37 percent greater risk of dementia compared to those with the highest cognitive demands.2

Trine Edwin, M.D., Ph.D., first author of the study published in the journal Neurology in April, said: “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.”3

But don’t worry if you didn’t work a “brainy” job. All is certainly not lost. The fantastic thing about the human brain is its ability to repair and restore itself when given the right environment.

It’s Never Too Late to Challenge The Brain

Dr. Edwin was quick to point out that 60 percent of the protective effect of having a mentally stimulating job was down to education. “It means that education is very important, but it’s also what you do afterwards: it’s how you use your brain when you are working. You are building your cognitive reserve at work by being cognitively active,” she explained.

“It’s not that you are doomed, or you are not – we can empower people for their later cognitive health with education and tasks that are cognitively stimulating,” Trine added.4

Our Takeaway

The critical point here is to keep stimulating your brain. This can happen by reading, learning a new language, playing a new musical instrument, solving crosswords, taking up bridge, woodworking, going to an adult education class—just learning something new on a regular basis.

Professor Robert Wilson, a neuropsychologist with the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, assures us: “[T]he good news is that it’s never too late to start doing these things, even in your 80s, to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s dementia.”

Keep Reading

View All Articles
Brainy Occupations Can Save Your Memory about false


Brainy Occupations Can Save Your Memory

Study shows having a "brainy" occupation can save your memory. What researchers discovered can help you prevent memory loss no matter your profession.

This Easy Brain Hack May be The Best Way to Supercharge Your Memory about false


This Easy Brain Hack May be The Best Way to Supercharge Your Memory

Easy brain hack combining two kinds of exercise with brain games can improve your thinking and clarity.

5 Easy Ways To Save Your Brain 
(And Why Should You Get Started Today…) about false


5 Easy Ways To Save Your Brain (And Why Should You Get Started Today…)

Your diet and lifestyle are the most important components of building cognitive reserve and maintaining a sharp