Posted on May 16, 2014, 6 a.m.
While a mentally demanding job may cause its share of stresses, it may help keep your mind sharp long after retirement.
Changes in cognitive abilities often are part of the aging process, but new data suggests that certain job characteristics during employment years may help to moderate cognitive declines sometimes seen in retirement. Gwenith G. Fisher, from the University of Michigan (Michigan, USA), and colleagues analyzed data collected on 4,182 men and women enrolled in the Health and Retirement Study. Participants were interviewed about eight times between 1992 and 2010, starting when they were between the ages of 51 and 61. They worked in a wide variety of jobs and had been doing the same type of work for more than 25 years, on average, before they retired. The researchers examined the mental requirements of each job that participants reported having during that period. These requirements included analyzing data, developing objectives and strategies, making decisions, solving problems, evaluating information and thinking creatively. As well, the team also assessed participants' mental functioning, using standard tests of episodic memory and mental status. The researchers observed that those subjects who had worked in jobs with greater mental demands were more likely to have better memories before they retired and more likely to have slower declines in memory after retiring than people who had worked in jobs with fewer mental demands. The differences at the time of retirement were not large, but they grew over time. The study authors conclude that: “Results indicated that working in an occupation characterized by higher levels of mental demands was associated with higher levels of cognitive functioning before retirement, and a slower rate of cognitive decline after retirement.”
Fisher, Gwenith G.; Stachowski, Alicia; Infurna, Frank J.; Faul, Jessica D.; Grosch, James; Tetrick, Lois E. “Mental work demands, retirement, and longitudinal trajectories of cognitive functioning.” Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, Vol 19(2), Apr 2014, 231-242.