Differential effects of enriched environment at work on cognitive decline in old age

Neurology. 2015 May 26;84(21):2169-76. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000001605. Epub 2015 Apr 29.


Objectives: The aim of the present study was to investigate how different mentally demanding work conditions during the professional life-i.e., enriched environments at work-might influence the rate of cognitive decline in old age.

Methods: Individuals (n = 1,054) of the Leipzig Longitudinal Study of the Aged, a representative population-based cohort study of individuals aged 75 years and older, underwent cognitive testing via the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) in up to 6 measurement waves. Type and level of mentally demanding work conditions in the participants' former professional life were classified based on the O*NET job descriptor database.

Results: In multivariate mixed-model analyses (controlling for sociodemographic and health-related factors), a high level of mentally demanding work tasks stimulating verbal intelligence was significantly associated with a better cognitive functioning at baseline (on average 5 MMSE points higher) as well as a lower rate of cognitive decline (on average 2 MMSE points less) over the 8-year follow-up period compared with a low level. The rate of cognitive decline in old age was also significantly lower (on average 3 MMSE points less) in individuals who had a high level of mentally demanding work tasks stimulating executive functions than those who had a low level.

Conclusions: The results suggest 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 (75+ years). The findings thus emphasize that today's challenging work conditions may also promote positive health effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cognition Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Disease Progression*
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Female
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Intelligence / physiology
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Occupations / statistics & numerical data*
  • Social Environment
  • Work / statistics & numerical data*