People with challenging work tasks may be protected against dementia later in life compared to those with mentally undemanding work, says a study.
The study is important because it suggests that the type of work a person does throughout their career may have more significance on the brain health than education 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 year 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 analyzing 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.