Physically hard work has been associated with impaired brain function in the elderly

American researchers have found that elderly people who are engaged in heavy physical labor at work have memory problems. When scientists scanned their brains, they pointed to the reduced size of the hippocampus. An article about this was published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

It is known that work that requires a lot of strength and hard physical labor quickly depletes the body. A new study suggests that such overloads are also harmful to the brain since they impair cognitive functions such as memory.

The participants were 99 volunteers aged 60 to 79 years. They were asked to give details about their last job and assess the level of physical stress that the job brought (nature and conditions of work, cost of effort). They also completed a questionnaire on the psychological stress they may have experienced in their last job. In addition, the researchers analyzed the data on their health.

Then participants were offered tests to assess their cognitive abilities (episodic memory, active vocabulary, argumentation, speed of perception), followed by a structural brain MRI.

The results showed that those people who experienced more physical stress had worse memory and smaller hippocampal size, an essential part of the brain for memory function. And this connection was observed even when physical stress outside of work and general stress levels were excluded from the calculations.

The researchers explain that this is only a correlation, not a causal relationship: they do not say that hard work directly leads to a decrease in the size of the hippocampus and memory deterioration - the mechanism remains to be determined. However, they already insist that future studies of cognitive functions in old age should take into account work experience, in particular, how much people spend on physical strength.

July 24, 2020, 10:56 a.m.

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