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People in mentally stimulating jobs later in their career are less at risk of dementia than those in more mundane roles, research has found.
A study by scientists at University College London looked at data from 108,000 patients who had taken part in research in the UK, US and Europe examining links between work-related factors and chronic disease.
Cognitive stimulation at work was measured at the start of the study, when their average age was 45, and those involved were tracked for an average of 17 years, by which time 1,143 had developed dementia.
Lead author Professor Mika Kivimaki, from UCL’s Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, said: “Our observational findings support the hypothesis that mental stimulation in adulthood may postpone the onset of dementia. The levels of dementia at age 80 seen in people who experienced high levels of stimulation was observed at age 78.3 in those who had low mental stimulation.”
The research, published in the BMJ, found that incidence of dementia per 10,000 “person years” was 7.3 in the low cognitive stimulation group and 4.8 in the high stimulation group.
The report said the strength of the analysis included its large sample size and its ability to adjust for most of the established risk factors for dementia such as smoking, heavy alcohol consumption and physical inactivity. The authors acknowledged that they could not establish a causal link.
Dr Sara Imarisio, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Not everyone is able to choose the type of work they do, but studies like this highlight the importance of finding activities that help keep the brain active, whether it’s through work or hobbies.
“It’s not currently clear which activities are most helpful for building cognitive reserve, so whether it’s a stimulating job, reading or learning a language, finding something you enjoy is key. As well as staying mentally active, current evidence suggests that keeping socially connected and looking after heart health are all important ways to help protect our brain health and reduce the risk of dementia.”