Get an Intellectually Challenging Job to Stay Sharp in Retirement

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Many older people worry about developing some form of dementia for a good reason. One of three seniors die with dementia, according to the Alzheimer's Association. And even without such an extreme condition, there is still normal aging of the brain and decline of mental functions.

There is various advice about using diet and exercise to keep sharp, and even websites that offer mental exercises they claim can help. According to a new study in the journal Neurology, there is something else you can do in earlier years: work in an intellectually-challenging occupation.European researchers wanted to see the results of "mentally demanding work conditions during the professional life" on the "rate of cognitive decline in old age." They examined 1,054 individuals 75 years or older and had them undergo cognitive testing. The researchers repeated the testing every 18 months for eight years, according to NPR.

The researchers compared the former occupations of these individuals with a U.S. Department of Labor database of occupations with their descriptions, often used as a reference by researchers.

The results, controlled for differences in demographics and health-related factors, showed that people who had a history of mentally demanding work that used verbal intelligence had better cognitive scores than the average when originally measured. Furthermore, these individuals saw a slower rate of decline than average. A similar slower rate of decline was seen among those whose jobs required strong use of mental executive functions. According to WebMD, executive functions refer to mental processes that include managing time and attention, planning and organizing, remembering details, controlling speech and behavior, and integrating past experiences with current activity.

The researchers concluded that "a professional life enriched with work tasks stimulating verbal intelligence and executive functions may help to sustain a good cognitive functioning in old age." They also said that challenging work conditions might promote health benefits as well.
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