For the most part, I've never felt self-conscious about my memory skills until I heard of the world of memory championships. With intense training and special techniques, memory champions can memorize and write down hundreds of numbers or words in just 15 minutes.
For those of us who don't have the time nor will to train, it turns out our job choice might play a part in our ability to remember. A new study in Neurology looked at which professions, if any, best preserve memory and thinking abilities. The study looked at over 1,000 individuals and whether their work environments were associated with better cognitive outcomes later in life. The participants all took part in a standardized IQ test when they were 11 years old, and at age 70 they were assessed for their cognitive skills—from memory skills, to thinking speed, and general thinking abilities. The test included word analogies, arithmetic, spatial puzzles, and cypher decoding.
This test was analyzed against information collected about the participant's job. The researchers organized the jobs by the level of complexity. For example, jobs deemed "highly complex" in the study included architects, lawyers, surgeons, and musicians. Jobs that had a lower score of complexity included carpet layer, painter, and telephone operator.
The overall effect of occupation on later-life cognitive skills is only about one to two percent better for those who held jobs with high levels of complexity. Though this effect seems to be very small, the researchers note that this magnitude is comparable with smoking when considering how lifestyle can either damage or protect against the effects of brain aging.
“These results suggest that more stimulating work environments may help people retain their thinking skills, and that this might be observed years after they have retired,” said study author Alan J. Gow in a press release. “Factoring in people’s IQ at age 11 explained about 50 percent of the variance in thinking abilities in later life, but it did not account for all of the difference. That is, while it is true that people who have higher cognitive abilities are more likely to get more complex jobs, there still seems to be a small advantage gained from these complex jobs for later thinking skills.”