New research finds that taking time off from work may improve or reduce cognitive function in older age, depending upon the reason for the employment absence.
University of Luxembourg researchers found that prolonged work absences resulting from unemployment or sickness are associated with a higher risk of cognitive impairment. This indicates that these kinds of employment gaps may in the long run decrease cognitive reserve — the mind’s ability to maximize performance by using different brain networks or alternative cognitive strategies.
On the other hand, strong evidence suggests time off for training and maternity breaks are related to slower cognitive decline, suggesting beneficial associations of these kinds of furloughs on cognitive function.
As published in the journal Annals of Epidemiology, Anja Leist, Ph.D., concludes that employment gaps during working life have the potential to increase or decrease cognitive reserve.
The examination of how different activities performed during employment gaps are associated with later cognitive function and change has not been systematically investigated until now.
The study looked at complete work histories and extensive cognitive assessments among respondents to the Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) in 13 countries. The research team then examined how employment gaps associated with unemployment, sickness, homemaking, training and maternity spells relate to cognitive function and aging-related cognitive decline at older age.
These results provide first evidence for possible beneficial effects of cognitively stimulating activities during employment gaps.
Researchers performed the analysis from the perspective of occupational class and found that unemployment and sickness spells were more strongly associated with cognitive impairment for workers in higher occupations.
Further research is needed to examine if these associations are indeed causal.
“For me it was exciting to think of employment gaps as a possibility to increase cognitive reserve during working life. There may be different mechanisms at work,” Leist said. “For instance, training [breaks] may lead to higher socioeconomic status later on, whereas maternity [breaks] may reduce the stress of balancing family and work tasks, and we need further research to disentangle these effects.
“The findings are in line with other studies that suggest that cognitively stimulating activities can indeed increase cognitive reserve and delay cognitive decline in older age,” she said.
Source: University of Luxembourg