Study: Time away from work affects later cognitive abilities

Sometimes the solution to a task or a basic problem is simply a time out. In the case of a tiring daily routine a long trip or dealing with other issues and exercises is refreshing and allows us to regain our strength. In contrast involuntary time outs due to illness or unemployment causes stress and sorrows and hardly leads to well-being. For the first time a scientific analysis by researchers at the University of Luxembourg examined how career breaks affected the cognitive abilities, meaning a reduction or expansion of mental potentials in old age. Career breaks due to unemployment, illness, long-term domestic work, education and training or parental leave are correlated with the cognitive functions of workers. They either speed up or slow down the age-related cognitive recession later on. This is the core result of the “Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe” (SHARE), which looked at complete curriculums and extensively examined cognitive functions of a group of respondents in 13 countries. Anja Leist, part of the research unit INSIDE at the University of Luxembourg, is particularly excited about the possibility to confirm or reject the hypothesis that “career breaks can potentially increase the cognitive reserve during the professional life.” Training opportunities and further education might lead to a higher socio-economic status in future, while a parental leave reduces the stress to combine family and work commitments. Both have, in contrast to periods of illness or periods of unemployment, positive effects on cognitive abilities in old age. According to the researchers the results need to be replicated and verified in further studies to put them on a solid ground. Nevertheless the results are already another good reason for companies to offer a wide range of upgrade training courses or encourage parents-to-be to take a parental leave. In case of unemployment professional training programmes, offered by the public sector, are equally important to preserve mental abilities. Only in this way the cognitive potential can be optimally utilized to old age.