Job insecurity among older adults may increase risk for memory loss, study finds

Job insecurity among older adults may increase risk for memory loss, study finds
Older adults who concerned about their job security may be at higher risk for memory loss, a new study suggests. Photo by stevepb/Pixabay

April 13 (UPI) -- People concerned about their job security in late adulthood are more likely to experience memory loss as they age, a study published Wednesday found.

Study participants who reported "job insecurity" in their 50s and 60s performed less well on tests designed to assess their memory and word recall compared with peers who felt secure in their employment, the data, which was published Wednesday by JAMA Network Open, showed.


Participants who reported feeling insecure in their jobs -- meaning they feared being fired, laid off or forced into retirement -- had, on average, about 3% lower scores on these memory tests, the researchers said.

In addition, they were about 10% more likely to be overweight or obese and about twice as likely to have symptoms of depression, according to the researchers.

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Those reporting job insecurity also were about 20% more likely to suffer from diabetes and heart disease, the researchers said.


"The worry or fear of losing one's job is associated with worse memory function after age 55," study co-author Lindsay Kobayashi told UPI in an email.

"Because of recent financial crises and rising inflation, uncertainty about job security may be rising and is stressful [and] this type of stress may contribute to reduced memory function," said Kobayashi, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

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It's likely this stress has increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

As of the end of March, the unemployment rate in the United States was 3.6%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Among adults age 55 years and older, the unemployment rate is 2.6%, but this may reflect that many people in this demographic are retired and no longer seeking work, the agency says.

However, earlier studies have suggested that postponing retirement and continuing to work can lower a person's risk for dementia.

For this study, Kobayashi and her colleagues surveyed and evaluated nearly 10,000 working adults age 55 years and older in the United States and England.

Participants were asked about their feelings regarding job security and were assessed over a 10-year period by using tests designed to measure memory and word recall, the researchers said.


Among British participants, 24% reported feeling insecure in their jobs compared with 22% of those in the United States, the data showed.

Just over 21% of the participants indicating they had job insecurity had symptoms of depression, compared with 12% of those who felt secure in their employment, the researchers said.

In addition, 13% of the job insecure participants had diabetes and/or heart disease, compared with about 11% of those who felt secure in their work, according to the researchers.

On memory tests in which the highest possible score is 20, those who felt job insecurity had average scores of 10.9, while those who felt secure in their employment scored, on average, about 11.3, the data showed.

"There is a large body of evidence indicating that remaining engaged in cognitively stimulating activities throughout adulthood and into older age does stave off dementia [and] remaining engaged in work can also give a sense of purpose," Kobayashi said.

However, "it's important to remember that not all jobs are created equal -- hazardous employment that involves heavy stress, physical strain or exposure to chemicals or pollutants may be damaging to health, and potentially negate any cognitive benefits of employment," she said.

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