In a recent study published in The BMJ, researchers found people with mentally stimulating jobs have a lower risk of dementia in old age than those with non-stimulating jobs.
One possible explanation is that mental stimulation is linked to lower levels of certain proteins that may prevent brain cells from forming new connections (processes called axonogenesis and synaptogenesis).
The study is from the University College London. One author is Mika Kivimäki.
Cognitive stimulation is assumed to prevent or postpone the onset of dementia.
But results have varied and most recent long-term studies have suggested that leisure time cognitive activity does not reduce the risk of dementia.
Exposure to cognitive stimulation at work typically lasts considerably longer than cognitively stimulating hobbies, yet work-based studies have also failed to produce compelling evidence of benefits.
In the study, the team examined cognitive stimulation and dementia risk in 107,896 participants (42% men; average age 45 years).
Cognitive stimulation at work was measured at the start of the study and participants were tracked for an average of 17 years to see if they developed dementia.
Cognitively stimulating “active” jobs include demanding tasks and high job decision latitude (also known as job control), while non-stimulating “passive” jobs are those with low demands and lack of job control.
The team found the risk of dementia is lower for participants with high compared with low cognitive stimulation at work.
This finding remained after further adjustments for a range of established dementia risk factors in childhood and adulthood, cardiometabolic diseases (diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke), and the competing risk of death.
The association did not differ between men and women or those younger and older than 60, but there was an indication that the association was stronger for Alzheimer’s disease than for other dementias.
Cognitive stimulation was also linked to lower levels of three proteins linked to both cognitive stimulations in adulthood and dementia, providing possible clues to underlying biological mechanisms.
The findings suggest that people with cognitively stimulating jobs have a lower risk of dementia in old age than those with non-stimulating jobs.
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