Complex jobs, social ties help ward off Alzheimer’s


a doctor, or doing other jobs that involve complex thinking, is thought
to help ward against Alzheimer’s . Photo / AP

Work that involves complex thinking and interaction with other people
seems to help protect against the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease,
according to research presented today at the Alzheimer’s Association’s
International Conference in Toronto.
Two studies looked at how
complex work and social engagement counteract the effects of unhealthy
diet and cerebrovascular disease on cognition.
One found that
while a “Western” diet (characterised by red and processed meats, white
bread, potatoes, pre-packaged foods, and sweets) is associated with
cognitive decline, people who ate such food could offset the negative
effects and experienced less cognitive decline if they also had a
mentally stimulating lifestyle.
Occupations that afforded the
highest levels of protections included lawyer, teacher, social worker,
engineer and doctor; the fewest protections were seen among people who
held jobs such as labourer, cashier, grocery shelf stocker, and machine

“You can never totally forget about the importance of a good
diet, but in terms of your risk of dementia, you are better able to
accommodate some of the brain damage that is associated with consuming
this kind of (unhealthy) diet,” said Matthew Parrott, a post-doctoral
fellow at the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto, who presented the
In another study, researchers found that people with
increased white matter hyperintensities (WMHs) – white spots that appear
on brain scans and are commonly associated with Alzheimer’s and
cognitive decline – were able to better tolerate WMH-related damage if
they worked primarily with other people rather than with things or data.
involving “mentoring” – such as social worker, physician, school
counsellor, psychologist, and pastor – were considered most complex,
said Elizabeth Boots, a research specialist at the University of
Wisconsin and the study’s presenting author.
Work involving
taking instructions or helping was considered least complex. The study,
conducted by the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centre and
Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute, focused on people who were cognitively
healthy but at risk for Alzheimer’s.
“By showing that cognitive reserve is already at
work early in the disease process, we believe this could have potential
implications for early intervention, such as identifying those with
potentially lower reserve and suggesting ways to boost that reserve in
some way,” Boots said, adding that it could be possible for those with
lower reserve to implement more complex skills into their daily lives.”

Staying intellectually active whether it be your job or other kinds of activities may actually be beneficial

Ronald Petersen

studies support previous findings that more stimulating lifestyles are
associated with better cognitive outcomes later in life, and bolster the
importance of intellectual engagement, said Ronald Petersen, director
of the Mayo Clinic Study of Ageing and the Mayo Alzheimer’s Research
“Physical activity has been reasonably well-documented,
but with intellectual activity the data get pretty soft. . .these two
studies speak to that,” he said. “What it may mean is the development of
Alzheimer’s Disease or cognitive change with ageing need not be a
passive process; you can do something about it. . .staying
intellectually active whether it be your job or other kinds of
activities may actually be beneficial.”
When it comes to training
your brain, speed may be more important than content. Researchers at
AAIC presented 10-year results from the Advanced Cognitive Training for
Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study, which looked at the impact
of different kinds of brain training on 2785 older adults across the
They were divided into three groups who received
classroom-based memory strategies, classroom-based reasoning strategies,
and computerised speed-of-processing training, along with a control
group. The groups had 10 60-minute training sessions over five weeks,
and some received booster sessions a year and three years after the
After 10 years, only the speed-of-processing group
showed an effect: a 33 per cent reduction in new cases of cognitive
impairment or dementia, which rose to 48 per cent among those who had
participated in the booster session. The other two training groups did
not show a significant difference from the control group.

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