Routine, repetitive jobs raise your risk of dementia

Working a mentally demanding job with complex, thought-provoking tasks may delay the onset of dementia later in life, new research has demonstrated.b

The study analysed more than 7000 people working across 305 occupations and found those working the least mentally demanding jobs had a 66 per cent greater risk of developing mild cognitive impairment, and a 31 per cent greater risk of dementia, by the age of 70 compared with those in the most mentally taxing roles.

Dr Trine Edwin, lead author of the study, says the results show the important role your job plays in keeping your brain healthy.

“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,” she says.

“The workplace is really important in promoting cognitive health.”

What is a ‘cognitively complex’ job?

To ascertain an occupation’s ‘complexity’ the researchers first determined the amount of manual vs mental work required in each job, as well as the degree of analytical and interpersonal tasks they involved.

They found most people worked jobs with a similar degree of cognitive demand between ages 30 to 60, meaning that those who started out working less mentally stimulating jobs tended to stay in those types of jobs, and vice versa.

Jobs classed as being less cognitively demanding included housekeepers, construction workers, groundskeepers and mail delivery drivers.

What these jobs have in common is they all involve repetitive manual or mental tasks, like those you would find working in a factory or entering data into a spreadsheet.

More mentally demanding jobs were those not based on performing routine tasks, even if repetition was sometimes required.

These occupations more often include tasks such as creative thinking, analysing information, problem-solving and explaining ideas and information to others.

“There were lawyers, doctors, accountants, technical engineers and people in public service in this group,” Dr Edwin says.

“But the most common occupation was teaching. Teachers have a lot of interaction with students and parents and have to explain and analyse information. It’s not so routine-oriented.”

Use it or lose it

The results show the adage ‘use it or lose it’ can certainly be applied to your cognitive functions. But if you work a less-than-stimulating job, that doesn’t necessarily mean you are definitely bound for dementia.

The research also showed that education was one way to counter the cognitive effects of a menial job. Completing a university degree was associated with a 60 per cent reduction in cognitive decline, compared to those without a degree.

Dr Edwin says what the research really reveals is that you need to keep using your brain your whole life in order to keep it healthy, in the same way that a lifetime of exercise will help stave off frailty.

“These results indicate that both education and doing work that challenges your brain during your career play a crucial role in lowering the risk of cognitive impairment later in life,” she says.

“Further research is required to pinpoint the specific cognitively challenging occupational tasks that are most beneficial for maintaining thinking and memory skills.”

Would you describe your job as cognitively challenging? Are you regularly required to solve problems? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Neurological conditions fuel rise in deaths

Brad Lockyer
Brad Lockyer
Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.
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