Occupational Patterns of Structural Brain Health: Independent Contributions Beyond Education, Gender, Intelligence, and Age

Habeck, Christian G.; Eich, Teal S.; Gu, Yian; Stern, Yaakov

Occupational activity represents a large percentage of people’s daily activity and thus likely is as impactful for people’s general and cognitive health as other lifestyle components such as leisure activity, sleep, diet, and exercise. Different occupations, however, require different skills, abilities, activities, credentials, work styles, etc., constituting a rich multidimensional formative exposure with likely consequences for brain development over the lifespan. In the current study, we were interested in how different occupations with their different attributes relate to five variables: structural brain health, duration of early-life education, gender, IQ, and age, although the main focus was the relationship to brain health. To this end, we used the Occupation Information Network (O∗NET), which provides quantification of occupations along 246 items. Occupational patterns with different loadings for these 246 items were derived from 277 community-dwelling adults, ranging in age from 40 to 80, based upon the five subject measures. We found significant patterns underlying four of our variables of interest, with gender and education predictably showing the most numerous and strongest associations, while brain health and intelligence showed weaker associations, and age did not manifest any associations. For the occupational pattern associated with brain health, we found mainly positive associations on items pertaining to rigorous problem-solving, leadership, responsibility, and information processing. We emphasize that the findings are correlational and cannot establish causation. Future extensions of this work will assess the influence of occupation on future cognitive brain status and cognitive performance.


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Frontiers in Human Neuroscience

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May 4, 2021