Summary: Work plays an active role in keeping the brain healthy and retaining cognitive abilities as we age, researchers report.
A recent study shows that work plays an active role in keeping our brains healthy.
“We have demonstrated the role of working activity on cognitive performance,” Professor Raffaella Rumiati says. Rumiati is a cognitive neuroscientist at SISSA and author of the paper Protective factor for Subjective Cognitive Decline Individuals: Trajectories and change in a longitudinal study with Italian seniors, recently published in the European Journal of Neurology.
“Many studies have been focused on the factors influencing our brain aging and differences in cognitive decline have been often observed in association with education or other related to quality of life. From our analysis, it emerges that the type of work activity also contributes to the differences in normal and pathological cognitive aging.”
The analysis: resistant and declining brains
The research, carried out by a team of scientists from the University of Padua (Dip. FISPPA), SISSA—Scuola Internazionale di Studi Superiori Avanzati and IRCSS San Camillo Hospital in Venice, quantified the relative contribution of demographic factors (age and sex), comorbidity, education and occupation to the so-called cognitive reserve, that is brain’s resistance to damage caused by illness or aging.
Participants were assessed with a series of neuropsychological tests and subsequently divided into three types of profiles based on the results: subjects at risk of cognitive decline, subjects with mild decline, and subjects with severe decline.
The tests were repeated twice a few years apart. Depending on whether they maintained or worsened their profile based on their initial performance, participants were classified as “resistant” or “declining.”
Education and occupation to stay young
The analysis surprisingly shows that occupation is a good predictor of participants’ performance in addition to age and education, two factors that have been already studied.
Professor Sara Mondini of the University of Padua says that they “confirmed that education protects people from the risk of cognitive decline and that these individuals had held more complex occupations than the individuals of the other two groups, the subjects with mild and advanced cognitive decline.
Furthermore, the study showed how the “resistant” group has on average higher levels of education and more complex jobs than the “declining” group.
The results demonstrate the benefits of cognitive mobilization promoted by lifelong learning and that social connection, ongoing sense of purpose and ability to function independently largely affect cognitive health and general well-being along the trajectories of aging.
About this cognition and aging research news
Author: Press Office Source: SISSA Contact: Press Office – SISSA Image: The image is in the public domain
Protective factors for subjective cognitive decline individuals: trajectories and changes in a longitudinal study with Italian elderly
Background and purpose
Many different factors have been hypothesized to modulate cognition in an aging population according to their functioning at baseline.
This retrospective study quantifies the relative contribution of age and sex as demographic factors, comorbidity, education and occupation (classified with the International Standard Classification of Occupation 2008) as cognitive reserve proxies in accounting for cognitive aging. All participants (3081) were evaluated at baseline with a complete neuropsychological test battery (T1) and those with unimpaired profiles were classified as subjective cognitive decline, those mildly impaired as mild neurocognitive decline and those severely impaired as major neurocognitive decline. From the first assessment 543 individuals were assessed a second time (T2), and 125 a third time (T3). Depending on whether they maintained or worsened their profile, based on their initial performance, participants were then classified as resistant or declining.
At baseline, all individuals showed education and occupation as the best predictors of performance, in addition to age. Furthermore, across assessments, the resistant had higher levels of education and occupation than the declining. In particular, the education and occupation predicted cognitive performance in all groups considered, from the subjective cognitive decline to the one with the most severely impaired participants.
This study highlights the role of working activity in protecting from cognitive decline across all fragile elderly groups and even more so the individuals who are at very high risk of decline.