In a new study, researchers in Engineering Psychology at Luleå University of Technology and Umeå University have looked at the impact of working life on memory as we get older. Project leader and leader of the research group is Jessica K. Ljungberg, a memory researcher and Professor of Engineering Psychology at Luleå University of Technology.
– Brain training is a very hot topic right now and research has shown that it works just as with physical exercise, you get good at exactly what you exercise on. If you solve crosswords you will be good at just crosswords but you will not get better memory or a more well-trained brain overall. When we work, we train our brains and that is something that we spend so much time on each day. But depending on what profession we have, we train different parts of the brain. We thought it must simply affect the brain as we get older, says Jessica K. Ljungberg.
Pension affects memory
The study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, involves 225 people, of which 136 are women and 89 are men. The study is part of the project Successful aging, where researchers have for a long time collected information about people and their memory health, which then forms the basis for several different studies. In this study the researchers have looked at people aged 50-75, because the researchers have seen that it is in retirement that most people start to lose their "mental muscles", regardless of what they have worked with before.
– When we work, we train the brain every day, but when we retire we become more passive and don’t get as many new impressions and mental challenges. Based on previous research that we have done, we believe that certain memory abilities may be weakened when we don’t use them so much, says Jessica K. Ljungberg.
Jessica K. Ljungberg explains that we have many different memory systems in our brains and that some of them are affected more quickly by age than others. Among other things, the working memory, which allows us, for example, to temporarily remember a code or a telephone number, and the episodic memory, which allows us to remember things and events we have been through.
Work with people
The study showed that the more mentally stimulating work the participants had during life, the better they were able to perform working memory tasks given to them by the researchers. You could also see that those who worked with people (such as teachers and consultants) were better than others at multitasking. That is to shift their attention between different tasks.
– The explanation could be that when you interact with other people, you activate the frontal lobe of the brain, which you do when you use your working memory. We believe it strengthens working memory processes linked to the frontal lobe, says Jessica K. Ljungberg.
In the project Successful aging, the researchers have collected data where many other professional groups are represented, but all the data hasn’t been analyzed yet.
– This is just a first study. We have a large amount of data collected that we will use to do more studies in the area in the future. We hope to see more research in this area of research later on as there are currently too few studies, says Jessica K. Ljungberg.
The brain is changeable
Jessica K. Ljungberg emphasizes the importance of having a mentally active leisure time, especially as you get older.
– It has a tremendous importance. Keeping the brain stimulated will make you less forgetful, quicker in thought, easier to solve problems and remember where you put things. It creates a good spiral of feeling that you are hanging out and feeling good. If, on the other hand, you don’t get out of the home and end up in a negative spiral where you feel alone, then it becomes harder and harder to get out and meet people and challenge yourself, and then your brain gets less exercise which means it doesn’t last in such good shape, which makes you feel that you aren’t mentally related.
– We want to make visible that the brain is moldable and that what we humans do has a direct impact on how our memory health looks. There’s a lot of talk about good physical health giving a better life and better aging, but we want to show that the memory health mustn’t be forgotten. Even though I retire and stay physically active, I also have to keep myself mentally stimulated. We think mental muscles are a fresh product, just like physical muscles. This means that when you retire, it’s important that you spend time on something that is stimulating to the brain, says Jessica K. Ljungberg.
Take care of the elderly
As the older population grows larger and larger, there should be great interest in this, the researchers say. According to WHO, the number of people older than 60 will have doubled by 2050.
– It’s important that we take care of the elderly. Especially in the elderly care, the issue of brain training must be raised more. We can’t prevent dementia, but we can give the elderly more mental stimulation so that their brains and memories stay healthy, says Jessica K. Ljungberg.