Challenging work tasks sharpen brain

London: If your job requires more speaking, developing strategies, conflict resolution and managerial tasks, you may be better protected against memory and thinking decline in old age than your co-workers, says a study.

“Our study is important because it suggests that the type of work you do throughout your career may have even more significance on your brain health than your education does,” said study author Francisca Then from University of Leipzig in Germany. “Education is a well-known factor that influences dementia risk,” Then noted.

For the study, 1,054 people over the age of 75 were given tests that measured their memory and thinking abilities every one-and-a-half years for eight years.

The researchers also asked the participants about their work history and categorized the tasks they completed into three groups: executive, verbal and fluid.

Examples of executive tasks are scheduling work and activities, developing strategies and resolving conflicts. Examples of verbal tasks are evaluating and interpreting information and fluid tasks were considered to be those which included selective attention and analysing data.

Among the three types of work tasks, high levels of executive and verbal tasks were distinctively associated with slower rates of memory and thinking decline.

The study found that people whose careers included the highest level of all three types of tasks scored higher on the thinking and memory tests over people with the lowest level.

People with the highest level of all three types of tasks also had the slowest rate of cognitive decline.

Over eight years, their rate of decline was half the rate of participants with a low level of mentally demanding work tasks.

“Challenges at work may indeed be a positive element, if they build up a person’s mental reserve in the long-term,” Then noted.

The study appeared in the online issue of the journal Neurology.