A mentally stimulating career may help to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, research suggests. According to a study carried out in the United States, those who develop the debilitating form of dementia are more likely to have had jobs that do not tax the brain.

The discovery lends weight to the ‘use it or lose it’ theory, says Kathleen Smyth of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, who led the research. Experts have previously suggested that keeping the mind active, through reading or crossword puzzles, can help to stave off dementia in old age.

The latest work, however, shows that mental stimulation throughout life can influence the development of Alzheimer’s. The researchers examined 122 people with Alzheimer’s disease and 235 healthy subjects, and compared the mental demands they had faced throughout their careers, from their twenties right through to their fifties.

The average level of mental strain on the two groups was equal during their twenties. But those without Alzheimer’s tended to have had jobs that were more mentally taxing from their thirties through to retirement, the researchers report in the journal Neurology. “In their thirties, forties and fifties there was a divergence that persisted,” Smyth says.

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