Study: Paying Jobs May Slow Down Age‑Related Memory Loss in Women
Women who hold jobs between early adulthood and middle-age may experience slower memory decline in old age, compared to those who have never worked, according to new research conducted at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. Within its scope, the period of employment didn’t necessarily have to be continuous; married mothers who took time off to care for children but rejoined the workforce later, for example, still saw slower memory decline than those who never joined.
Frequent mental stimulation and the security of the financial and social benefits of having a job are the possible ways waged-employment retards memory loss, according to lead researcher Dr. Elizabeth Rose Mayeda, professor of epidemiology, and her team.
After recording the status of more than 6,000 women in terms of waged employment, marital and parenthood status, Mayeda and her team measured their memory using standardized tests every two years starting when the women were 50 years old or older. The results showed that the rate of memory decline was the fastest for women who never had a paying job.
Married mothers who had never participated in the labor force faced a 61% faster decline in memory than married mothers who had; the average memory performance declined 83% faster for single mothers without waged employment when compared to single mothers with jobs, either continuously or intermittently.
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The findings of the study, presented at an international conference in Los Angeles in mid-July, shed light on how women’s work-family demands affect late-life memory decline. The research itself has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, but Rebecca Edelmayer, director of scientific engagement at the Alzheimer’s Association, reportedly said during the conference that “it’s possible that work in mid-life may actually be protective” for women. Other benefits of participation in the workforce, according to separate research, include higher cognitive function and resistance to any damage to the brain for both men and women.
Speaking to CNN, Dr. John Rowe, a professor of health policy and aging at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, concurs with the findings of this study, by citing previous research that has proved “social engagement” prevents cognitive decline as women age, just as it ensures less bone mineral density loss, which could cause to fractures.
“There are many studies that have shown that people who are engaged have greater physical and cognitive well-being than people who are not,” he said. That may not have to be paid work, he added, but could include volunteering as well.”We need to begin to look at engagement, work for pay or volunteering, as health promotion and disease prevention,” said Rowe. “When a physician sees a patient, they shouldn’t just be asking about blood pressure and exercise, but should also ask how patients spend their lives.” Policies that promote equal pay for equal work; paid family leaves with involuntary paternal leaves; and affordable childcare need to become mainstays in the conversation about women’s mental and physical health, especially as they age.