For many years, researchers were not sure which between working in a dirty workplace or unstimulating environment can cause more damage to one’s health. Now, researchers from the Florida State University claim that both can cause long-term cognitive decline in employees.

“Psychologists say that the brain is a muscle, while industrial hygienists point to chemicals in the work environment that may cause decline,” the lead researcher Joseph Grzywacz, the Norejane Hendrickson Professor and chair of Family and Child Sciences at FSU stated, “There are real things in the workplace that can shape cognitive function…we showed that both matter to cognitive health in adulthood.”

The study published in the June issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine states that unclean working environments can expose employees to lead, mold or loud noises that can affect an employee’s cognitive function. The problem with working in unstimulating workplace is that the average employee does not have much authority on decision making and follows routine so he uses less of his cognitive ability, causing cognitive decline later in life.

cognitive decline

Working in unclean and dull environment can cause cognitive decline. Credit: Steven Tom/Flickr

The study involved recruiting 4,963 adults, between the ages of 32 and 84. Forty-seven percent of the participants were men and 53 percent were women, all coming from 48 states in the US.

The team asked about the employees’ executive functioning skills and memory problems. They found that working in these environments resulted in cognitive decline.

“The practical issue here is cognitive decline associated with aging and the thought of, ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it,” says Grzywacz. “Designing jobs to ensure that all workers have some decision-making ability may protect cognitive function later in life, but it’s also about cleaning up the workplace.”

Apart from maintaining a clean workplace, the researchers state that learning new skills and undertaking new challenges can help improve one’s cognitive performance and prevent cognitive decline. The benefit is stronger for women as they aged.