Occupational complexity and cognitive reserve in a middle-aged cohort at risk for Alzheimer's disease

Elizabeth A. Boots, Stephanie A. Schultz, Rodrigo P. Almeida, Jennifer M. Oh, Rebecca L. Koscik, Maritza N. Dowling, Catherine L. Gallagher, Cynthia M. Carlsson, Howard A. Rowley, Barbara B. Bendlin, Sanjay Asthana, Mark A. Sager, Bruce P. Hermann, Sterling C. Johnson, Ozioma C. Okonkwo

Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology. 2015 Nov;30(7):634-42. Epub 2015 Jul 8.


Higher occupational attainment has previously been associated with increased Alzheimer’s disease (AD) neuropathology when individuals are matched for cognitive function, indicating occupation could provide cognitive reserve. We examined whether occupational complexity (OCC) associates with decreased hippocampal volume and increased whole brain atrophy given comparable cognitive function in middle-aged adults at risk for AD. Participants (n = 323) underwent structural MRI, cognitive evaluation, and work history assessment. Three complexity ratings (work with data, people, things) were obtained, averaged across up to three reported jobs, weighted by years per job, and summed to create a composite OCC rating. Greater OCC was associated with decreased hippocampal volume and increased whole brain atrophy when matched for cognitive function; results remained substantively unchanged after adjusting for several demographic, AD-risk, vascular, mental health, and socioeconomic characteristics. These findings suggest that, in people at risk for AD, OCC may confer resilience to the adverse effects of neuropathology on cognition.

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