Working with people may help to increase the brain's resilience

From the Autumn 2016 edition of Care and cure magazine, The Alzheimer's Association International Conference is one of the main events in the dementia research calendar, where experts from around the world gather to discuss the latest news, progress and insights. 

Several sessions at the 2016 conference focused on how the way we live our lives can influence our risk of dementia. Of particular interest was a concept called 'cognitive reserve'. This is a theory that if you do things throughout your life that challenge certain parts of the brain, it may help your brain cells to be resistant to damage caused by dementia. This is supported by the fact that if you have a high level of education, it appears to have a protective effect.

A particularly interesting conference presentation looked at whether having a complex job could also help your brain to be more resilient to dementia. Researchers from Wisconsin in the US scanned the brains of 284 people at a high risk of dementia to look for signs of 'white matter hyperintensities', which may indicate damage to the brain due to dementia. They also asked participants about their jobs and put this information into three categories - working with people, data or things.

The researchers found that people who had complex jobs that involved working with people had more white matter hyperintensities, but performed as well as their peers on tests of memory and thinking. This indicates that their brains are more able to sustain the damage caused by dementia. It adds weight to the idea that keeping the brain active and challenged may help to protect against dementia.

Dr Doug Brown, Alzheimer's Society's Director of Research and Development, said, 'It's incredibly positive to see that there are things we can do in life that could help our brains as they age. For many of us, the complexity of our job is not something we can easily change, so we need to see more research into other ways for people to build up their resilience to dementia.'