Teachers, lawyers and social workers are just some of the professions that could protect your brain against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, new research suggests.
Doctors say that jobs that involve “complex social interaction,” such as mentoring, negotiating or teaching, are what help to fight against disease setting into an aging brain.
Jobs such as labourers, cashiers, grocery shelf stockers and machine operators, offer the fewest protections, the new findings out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, warn.
“These findings suggest that a mentally engaging lifestyle can lessen the harmful effects that abnormal brain changes have on cognitive health. We found that greater white matter injury was not detrimental to cognitive function in those with increased occupational complexity,” Elizabeth Boots, one of the study’s co-authors, said.
This has nothing to do with how complicated or high stakes your job is either, Boots notes. It’s about engaging with peers on a regular basis.
“Interestingly, this finding seemed to be driven by complexity of work with people – but not data or things – suggesting that social interaction in the workplace could play an important role in boosting cognitive reserve,” Boots said.
Boots presented her team’s findings at this year’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference being held this week in Toronto.
Boots, and her colleague Dr. Ozioma Okonkwo, studied the brain scans of more than 280 people. They were about 60 years old and were at “higher risk” of Alzheimer’s disease based on their family history.
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(They were enrolled in the WRAP study – it’s a longitudinal study that was launched in 2000 and is following the health trajectories of more than 1,500 people who come in for brain scans, spinal fluid test samples and brain health testing.)
Their work history, and how often they worked with people, data or things was also factored in.
Turns out, those who had complex jobs that relied on working with people maintained the best brain health, even if the scans revealed their brains had more white matter lesions.
White matter is typically a marker for Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases.
Based on their findings, Boots says people at risk of dementia can stave off the disease by keeping a “mentally challenging job” that includes working with other people as a major component.
The results aren’t surprising: experts have said that being socially active and mentally engaged, in work and in your personal life, are key to keeping your brain happy.
“The evidence is getting stronger that there are things we can do to potentially lower our risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. Previously, before this evidence came to light, people … said it’s luck of the draw if they’ll get this disease and there was a real sense of helplessness and lack of control,” Mary Schulz, director of education at the Alzheimer Society of Canada, said.
Learn a new language in a classroom setting, join a local book club or even go to the movies with friends to keep your brain happy, Schulz advised.