Research links Alzheimer's to type of job

Lower mental demands tied to disease, study says


MILWAUKEE - People who developed Alzheimer's disease tended to hold jobs with lower mental demands during their 30s, 40s, and 50s than people who did not get the disease, according to new research.

The study is the latest in a growing body of research suggesting that higher levels of education as well as mentally stimulating activities might offer some protection against a disorder that now affects 4.5 million Americans, a number that is expected to grow drastically in the coming decades.

The study is the first look at mental job demands over the course of several decades and link those demands to Alzheimer's. An extensive U.S. Department of Labor ranking of occupational demands was used to determine job demands.

Examples of jobs with high mental demands included engineers, doctors, science and math teachers, architects, computer programmers and journalists. Jobs with lower levels included janitors, construction laborers and machine operators.

The study, which compared 122 people who had Alzheimer's with 235 who did not have the disease, was published today in the journal Neurology.

When both groups were in their 20s, they had jobs with similar mental demands, a level that was about 15 percent above the national average. However, as they grew older those who would later develop Alzheimer's tended to stay in jobs with about the same level of mental demands while those who did not get the disease tended to go into jobs with increasing mental demands.

"Not everybody can be an astrophysicist," said lead author Kathleen Smyth, a researcher at Case Western Reserve University. "[But] you want to keep your mind active."

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