Women who work for a salary between premature maturity and middle age experience slower memory decline, meaning they probably are at lower risk of dementia, a new examine presented Tuesday at the Alzheimer’s Association Worldwide Convention in Los Angeles suggests.
Women who engaged in paid employment between ages 16 and 50, whether mothers or non-mothers, had better memories in late life than women who did not work, the study found. The rate of memory deterioration was fastest amongst women who never earned a wage. Memory loss is one of the first prodromes of Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of California at San Francisco and Boston College tracked 6,836 American women born between 1935 and 1956 across about 20 years. Participants were enrollees in the Health and Retirement Study, a federally funded long-term observational study of aging people across the United States.
In the past decade, research has increasingly suggested that controllable lifestyle factors — including regular mental stimulation provided by work — can minimize the risk of cognitive decline.
Elizabeth Rose Mayeda, a professor at UCLA and the lead author of the study, said her findings, especially if confirmed by further analysis, level to the importance of policies and programs that incentivize women’s participation in the workforce.
The memory test requested whether the women could remember a list of words several minutes after they first heard it. It’s a “standard memory performance evaluation” in analysis research, Mayeda said.
The group examined, which was nationally representative racially, included working non-mothers, working married mothers, working single mothers, nonworking married mothers, and nonworking single mothers.
The UCLA study did not ask women what kind of employment they engaged in or what salary they earned. Mayeda pointed to a 2018 study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, that showed that more demanding jobs led to higher cognitive performance in late life for both men and women.