NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 16, 2004

People who hold mentally demanding jobs throughout their working years may be at lower risk for developing Alzheimer's disease, according to a new study released Monday.

The study, published in the Aug. 10 issue of Neurology, was the first to examine a potential link between Alzheimer's -- a progressive disorder that destroys brain cells -- and the types of jobs people held from their 20s until age 60.

The study examined 122 people with Alzheimer's disease and 235 people without the disease. Everyone was age 60 or older.

  • In general, the study found that people with Alzheimer's were more likely to have held less mentally demanding jobs than those without the disease.
  • They were also more likely to have had physically demanding jobs.

Lead researcher, Kathleen Smyth said when comparing the Alzheimer's group and the non-Alzheimer's group, researchers found that both groups held jobs with the same level of mental demand in their 20s. Then in their 30s, researchers started to find a divergence between the groups. Those without Alzheimer's typically moved to jobs with higher mental demands during their 40s and 50s, increasing the mental-demand level by about 33 percent across the decades.

The mental demands of occupations for those with Alzheimer's remained about the same in later decades. Smyth said there is no way to quantify the risk of developing Alzheimer's with the types of jobs people hold.

One limitation of the study, however, is the fact that it didn't control for socioeconomic status. People with higher socioeconomic status typically hold jobs with higher mental demands. Also, variations in income, access to health care and better nutrition could be responsible in part for the findings, Smyth said.

Source: Jennifer Corbett Dooren, "Mentally Demanding Jobs May Protect Against Alzheimer's," Wall Street Journal, August 10, 2004; and K. A. Smyth et al., "Worker functions and traits associated with occupations and the development of AD," Neurology, Vol. 63, Issue 3, August 10, 2004.

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