The role of occupational complexity in trajectories of cognitive aging before and after retirement

Psychol Aging. 2009 Sep;24(3):563-73. doi: 10.1037/a0015511.


We examined the association between complexity of the main lifetime occupation and changes in cognitive ability in later life. Data on complexity of work with data, people, and things and on 4 cognitive factors (verbal, spatial, memory, and speed) were available from 462 individuals in the longitudinal Swedish Adoption/Twin Study of Aging. Mean age at the first measurement wave was 64.3 years (SD = 7.2), and 65% of the sample had participated in at least three waves of data collection. Occupational complexity with people and data were both correlated with cognitive performance. Individuals with more complex work demonstrated higher mean performance on the verbal, spatial, and speed factors. Latent growth curve analyses indicated that, after correcting for education, only complexity with people was associated with differences in cognitive performance and rate of cognitive change. Continued engagement as a result of occupational complexity with people helped to facilitate verbal function before retirement, whereas a previous high level of complexity of work with people was associated with faster decline after retirement on the spatial factor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnosis
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology
  • Cognition*
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Psychological
  • Neuropsychological Tests / statistics & numerical data*
  • Occupations*
  • Problem Solving
  • Professional Competence*
  • Professional Role
  • Psychometrics
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Reference Values
  • Retirement*
  • Risk
  • Social Environment
  • Twins / psychology*