The complex nature of their work and the mentoring/social engagement involved results in them being better at protecting themselves against cognitive decline.
However, simple jobs involving taking instruction were deemed less complex and more vulnerable to developing memory loss later in life.
The findings come alongside another study (also published at the international conference of the Alzheimer’s Association in Toronto) which found that people could protect themselves against memory loss by following a “mentally stimulating lifestyle” and avoiding a poor diet.
In the first study, scientists at the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centre in Wisconsin looked at white matter hyperintensities (WMHs) – white spots that appear on brain scans and are associated with Alzheimer’s – in 284 late-middle-aged patients considered at risk of the disease.
They found that people who worked primarily with other people (instead of with things or data) were less likely to be affected by brain damage indicated by WMHs.
The likes of lawyers, engineers, social workers, teachers and doctors were best protected. However, those who were least protected included shelf-stackers, cashiers, machine operators and labourers.
This association is primarily driven by work with people, rather than data or things, said Elizabeth Boots, a researcher on the project.
“These analyses underscore the importance of social engagement in the work setting for building resilience to Alzheimer’s disease,” she said.
Meanwhile, the second study (by Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto) examined the diet of 351 older adults.
The researchers found that those who had a traditional Western diet of red and processed meat, white bread, potatoes and sweets were more likely to experience cognitive decline.
However, those who followed this kind of diet and had a mentally stimulating lifestyle had some protection from cognitive decline.
It’s the combination of higher educational attainment, mentally stimulating work and social engagement which can play a role in protecting your brain from cognitive decline (counteracting some negative effects of an unhealthy diet), said one of the researchers, Dr Matthew Parrott.
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Psychologists, social workers, lawyers and teachers may have stressful jobs, but new research indicates that there’s a significant upside.