Want to lower your dementia risk? Becoming a teacher is a good start

Teaching can help maintain your cognitive health while preventing dementia later in life

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

From your 30s to well into your 60s, a new study proposes working a mentally challenging job can pay off in more ways than one. It can even help maintain your cognitive health while preventing dementia later in life.

“Our results show the value of having an occupation that requires more complex thinking as a way to maintain memory and thinking in old age,” lead author Dr. Trine Edwin, an Oslo University Hospital researcher, told CNN. “The workplace is really important in promoting cognitive health.”

The study, published in the journal Neurology, observed data of 7,000 Norwegians from their 30s until their 60s to analyze health information concerning cognitive function. It was discovered that, throughout the entire 30-year age range, the Norwegians working jobs that provided little mental stimulation were at 66% higher risk of mild cognitive impairment and 37% higher risk of dementia after age 70.

“Most people in routine jobs in our sample included housekeepers, custodians, construction workers and mail carriers,” Edwin said.

Although the jobs considered mentally stimulating covered a wide range, one position stood out — teaching.

“There were lawyers, doctors, accountants, technical engineers and people in public service in this group, but the most common occupation was teaching,” he said. “Teachers have a lot of interaction with students and parents and have to explain and analyze information. It’s not so routine-oriented.”

The researchers noted, however, that more research is needed to pinpoint precisely which work tasks are most advantageous for promoting healthy cognitive function. Although not involved in the study, the director of research at Florida’s Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases said there is one basic rule of thumb older adults can follow.

“As they say, if you don’t use it, you lose it. This is similarly true for cognitive engagement throughout the lifespan,” Dr. Richard Isaacson told CNN.

“While I’d speculate that people at risk for Alzheimer’s would be well served by taking advantage of professional advancement opportunities, learning new job tasks, and refining their skills at work over a period of time, further studies will help clarify which specific activities have the most brain healthy benefits.”

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