5 Physically Demanding Jobs Linked to Higher Dementia Risk, New Study Reveals

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New research has identified five jobs that may place workers at a higher dementia risk, challenging the adage of “healthy body, healthy mind.” Let’s learn more!

The study, published in The Lancet and led by Vegard Skirbekk, a professor of Population and Family Health at Columbia Public Health, sheds light on the potential link between physically demanding jobs and cognitive decline.

Which Jobs Are Linked to Higher Dementia Risk?

The study, conducted in collaboration with the Norwegian National Centre of Ageing and Health and the Butler Columbia Aging Center, examined the impact of occupational physical activity (PA) on dementia risk.

It defined physically demanding jobs as those requiring significant use of the arms and legs, involving activities like climbing, lifting, balancing, walking, stooping, and material handling. Occupations falling into this category included salespeople, nursing assistants, farmers, and livestock producers.

Researchers analyzed data from 7,005 participants in the HUNT4 70+ Study, one of the world’s largest population-based studies on dementia. Of these participants, 902 had been diagnosed with dementia later in life, while 2,407 had mild cognitive impairment, which doesn’t necessarily lead to dementia.

The study found that individuals in physically demanding occupations faced a 15.5% higher risk of developing dementia compared to those in low occupational PA jobs, which posed only a 9% risk. The reasons for these findings were multifaceted, encompassing both the physical and mental toll of demanding jobs.

Occupations like nursing and sales were noted for their characteristics, including a lack of autonomy, prolonged standing, strenuous physical work, rigid hours, and high stress levels.

These factors were found to have adverse effects on brain health in older individuals. Increased physical activity in later life was linked to reduced hippocampal volume and poorer memory performance.

Interestingly, previous research had identified jobs that may help preserve healthy brain function, including managerial, teaching, legal, social work, engineering, physics, medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy roles.

Dr. Skirbekk emphasized the importance of monitoring individuals with high lifetime occupational and physical activity levels due to their heightened risk of dementia.

While this study contributes to existing research on the connection between occupational PA and brain diseases, it addresses limitations seen in previous studies that relied heavily on self-reported data, which could be subject to recall bias and misinterpretation, especially in older subjects.

In conclusion, future research should explore the relationship between occupational physical activity and dementia risk in older age groups, deepening our understanding of this complex issue.


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