A challenging job may keep you from losing your memory.

In today’s stressful society, that might sound a bit counterintuitive. But new research out of Germany shows that people who have intellectually stimulating jobs that provide opportunity to take responsibility and control are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Previous studies have shown that the risk for Alzheimer’s dementia increases with psychosocial inactivity and an unproductive work style, in addition to other factors,

The current study, published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, concludes that job demands play a role in the development of memory loss.

More than 400 patients, about half of whom had some form of dementia, were asked about their medical history, lifestyle, support systems, marital status, and employment history. Those with dementia answered questions with the help of a relative. Job-related questions focused on the degree of challenge, workload and workflow, communication, degree of control, social demands, and supervisor interaction.

A decrease in dementia was noted among workers who carried more weight on their shoulders and whose position was perceived as having a high risk for error. Age, education level, and the patient’s degree of dementia were all considered when evaluating the results.

“Challenging work with high control possibilities and high social demands might prevent the development of dementia or at least delay the time of its clinical manifestation,” the researchers wrote in the journal article.

The scientists say their results “support a role for psychosocial work factors in the etiology of dementia.” However, they add, it is possible that people could have picked jobs with poor work factors due to undiagnosed memory and thinking problems that did not develop into dementia until decades later.

By Kelli Miller Stacy, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

SOURCE: Seidler, A. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, December 2004; vol 61: pp 962–971. News Release, British Medical Journal.