Older women who never worked far worse on memory tests, study finds

Laura Donnelly
Work may bring long term benefits  - Getty Images Contributor

Older women who have never worked have far worse memory problems in later life than those without careers, research suggests. 

The study of 6,300 women found that average memory performance between the ages of 60 and 70 declined 61 per cent faster among stay-at-home mothers compared with those who worked.  Similar findings were found among non-mothers. 

The research involved American women born between 1935 and 1956. 

Memory performance was measured using standardized tests approximately every two years starting when the women were age 50 or older. 

The study found that women in the study who had paid work during adulthood experienced slower memory decline in late life. 

Researcher Prof Elizabeth Mayeda, assistant professor of epidemiology at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, said the findings build on existing research suggesting that time at work is associated with an increase in cognitive reserve.

“Though preliminary, our research provides evidence that participation in the paid labor force may help prevent late-life memory decline among women,” she said. 

“Possible pathways include mental stimulation, financial benefits, and social benefits,” said Mayeda. 

Dr Jana Voigt, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “These preliminary results suggest that paid employment may play an important role in later-life memory decline, but we can’t tell from this study whether the link is causal. The study looked at age-related memory decline, so we don’t know what effect work has on the number of women developing dementia. Unravelling the link between employment and memory decline will help grow our understanding of brain health and the best ways to maintain it.

“While future studies need to explore links between employment and brain health, these initial findings support ongoing efforts to increase the number of women entering or staying in the workforce,” she said.