15 February 2009

Long working hours may be a risk factor for decline in cognitive function in middle age

Long working hours and cognitive function: the Whitehall II study
Dementia News (Alzheimer’s Australia): 6 February 2009
British researchers set out to investigate whether there is an association between long working hours and cognitive function in middle age. Between 1997 and 1999 the researchers recruited 2,214 British civil servants who were in full-time employment and collected data on a variety of cognitive functions. These included short-term memory, vocabulary, language fluency and understanding. Between 2002and 2004 the study participants were evaluated again.

They found that those participants who regularly worked more than 55 hours per week achieved lower scores in the vocabulary test at both baseline and at follow-up. These people also declined in tests on reasoning ability. These findings held even when the researchers adjusted for confounding factors including age, sex, marital status, education, occupation, income, physical diseases, psycho-social factors, sleep disturbances, and health risk behaviours. They concluded that long working hours may be detrimental to cognitive performance in middle age.

These findings may be worth considering, especially as we know that dementia can begin many years before symptoms become apparent. It might be beneficial to try to reduce hours worked for those who work long hours each week.

The paper, Long Working Hours and Cognitive Function: The Whitehall II Study, is published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Related information: Work Stress and Health : The Whitehall Study

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