Cognitively stimulating jobs in midlife could lower dementia risk in old age, study finds

April 22, 2024  08:27

People with a history of cognitively stimulating occupations during their 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s had a lower risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and dementia after age 70, according to a new study from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, the Columbia Aging Center, and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, News Medical reports.

The findings highlight the importance of cognitive stimulation during midlife for maintaining cognitive function in old age. 

This is the first study to fully advance this association with objective assessments rather than subjective evaluations. The results are published in Neurology.

The researchers collected data from the Norwegian administrative registry and coupled it with occupational attributes of more than 300 jobs from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) database17 of the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment & Training Administration. Routine task intensity (RTI) index was computed as a measure of occupational cognitive demands based on measures from O*NET. A lower RTI index indicate more cognitively demanding occupations. 

Group-based trajectory modeling identified four groups of distinct occupational cognitive demands according to the degree of routine tasks in the participants’ occupations during their 30, 40s, 50s, and 60s.

The researchers analyzed the link between these trajectory groups and clinically diagnosed MCI and dementia in participants in the HUNT4 70+ Study (2017-19). Additionally, the researchers accounted for important dementia risk factors such as age, gender, educational level, income, overall health, and lifestyle habits from assessments made in 1984-86 and 1995-97.

After adjusting for age, sex, and education, the group with low occupational cognitive demands (the high RTI group) had a 37 percent higher risk of dementia compared to the group with high occupational cognitive demands.

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