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Occupational characteristics play role in cognitive decline after retirement

21 Aug 2017

Labourers retiring from occupations characterised by high levels of social and mental stimulation may be more susceptible to accelerated cognitive decline in late life, a study suggests.

Researchers looked at 1,048 individuals aged ≥65 years from the Three City cohort, obtaining information about the participants’ main occupation. Assessments including cognition and health were performed at baseline and every 2 years thereafter for a period of 12 years.

Three independent raters who specialized in employment evaluated the level of social and intellectual stimulation for each occupation, which was then rated as low, medium or high.

In mixed regression models, higher levels of social stimulation at work was not associated with baseline cognition as compared with a low level (medium score, p=0.440; high score, p=0.700). Cognitive trajectories were initially similar between high and medium levels of social stimulation vs a low level. However, greater levels of social stimulation during work years were related to accelerated cognitive decline that increased in magnitude with older age.

For mental stimulation, differences were only evident at baseline, with increased levels of mental stimulation during work years related to better cognitive performance (medium score, p=0.015; high score, p=0.090) as compared with a low level of mental stimulation.

“Future studies should aim to examine the possibility that engaging in social leisure activities may reduce the rate of decline during retirement,” researchers said, noting the need to understand how loss of exposure to the work environment due to retirement can be compensated by social stimulation.

Available evidence suggests that ageing negatively affects fluid cognitive abilities such as processing speed, working memory and episodic memory. Work is said to be a significant factor in promoting good cognitive health into older adulthood, as the work environment involves a routine weekly schedule and provides individuals with a significant source of social and intellectual stimulation, which in turn help maintain cognitive functioning both during one’s employment and after retirement. [J Aging Health 2007; 19: 397–415; Neurology 2014; 83: 2285–91; Am J Epidemiol 2008; 167: 820–30]

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