It’s another win for women in the workplace. Having a job – that pays – may guard against memory loss and reduce dementia risk later in life, new research shows.
“Though preliminary, our research provides evidence that participation in the paid labor force may help prevent late-life memory decline among women in the United States,” said lead researcher Elizabeth Rose Mayeda, an assistant professor of epidemiology at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, in a release.
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“Possible pathways include mental stimulation, financial benefits, and social benefits.”
Mayeda presented her preliminary findings earlier this week at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Los Angeles. Women make up two-thirds of all those affected with Alzheimer’s.
Mayeda and her team studied 6,386 women born between 1935 and 1956 in the Health and Retirement Study.
Women in the study reported their paid employment, marital and parental status between ages 16 and 50. Their memory performance was measured every two years, using standardized tests, after the age of 50. One test, for example, asked participants to memorize a list of words after hearing them.
It pays to work
Researchers found that the women in the study who participated in the paid labor force between early adulthood and middle age (including mothers and non-mothers) experienced slower memory decline in late life. On the other side, the rate of memory loss was fastest among women who did not engage in paid work.
Clearly, it pays off – cognitively – to work. Compared to married mothers who participated in the workforce, the average memory performance between ages 60 and 70 years declined 61% faster for married women with children who never took on paid work. Average memory performance declined 83% faster for women who had a prolonged period of single motherhood where they didn’t work for pay.
Still, as Mayeda told the Washington Post, the results of this study do not have to be “bad news for stay-at-home moms.”
In the future, Mayeda said, research should evaluate policies or programs that encourage women’s participation in the workplace. She also suggested to CNN that it was possible working in mid-life could be “protective” against memory loss and ultimately, Alzheimer’s.