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Senior Workers May Avoid Dementia

May 18, 2009

New research suggests that stimulating the brain by working longer into senior years could possibly prevent Alzheimer’s disease, BBC News reported. 

In a study comprised of 1,320 dementia patients, 382 of which were men, findings revealed that the men that continued to work late in life were able to maintain keenness of the brain enough to ward off dementia. 

The Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London conducted the study and published its findings in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 

Currently, nearly 700,000 UK citizens suffer dementia, and experts fear that number will increase to 1.7 million by 2051.  The UK economy already contributes an estimated £17 billion a year for treatment. 

Because Dementia is triggered by a massive loss of brain cells, experts propose that developing as many connections between cells as possible by maintaining active brain functions throughout life could potentially protect against the disease.  This is known as a “cognitive reserve”.

Valid evidence exists to support good education is correlated with less risk of dementia.  However, this particular study suggests there can be a positive result with mental activity well into our senior years. 

Individuals who retired late developed Alzheimer’s at an older age than those who opted not to continue work.

With each additional year of employment, a six week delay of onset was observed. 

According to researcher, Dr. John Powell, “The possibility that a person’s cognitive reserve could still be modified later in life adds weight to the “use it or lose it” concept where keeping active later in life has important health benefits, including reducing dementia risk.”

The nature of retirement is transforming, researchers admit, in that for some people it may actually be equally intellectually stimulating as any work they might engage in. 

Professor Simon Lovestone, a researcher in the study suggested that “the intellectual stimulation that older people gain from the workplace may prevent a decline in mental abilities, thus keeping people above the threshold for dementia for longer.” Although he added that “much more research is needed if we are to understand how to effectively delay, or even prevent, dementia.”

The study was funded by the Alzheimer’s Research Trust. Their chief executive Rebecca Wood said, “More people than ever retire later in life to avert financial hardship, but there may be a silver lining – lower dementia risk.”
 
But Dr. Susanne Sorensen, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society was not as eager to give credit to the findings because she fears the small sample size of the study makes it hard to draw distinct conclusions.

“There could be a number of reasons why later retirement in men is linked with later onset of dementia,” she commented.

“Men who retire early often do so because of health conditions, such as hypertension or diabetes, which increase your risk of dementia. It could also be that working helps keep your mind and body active, which we know reduces risk of dementia.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said it had conducted some work showing that individuals who worked past pension age had many positive effects. 

“Not only can it mean more income, but also social networking and increased activity.”
 
“We also find that many of today’s older workers are choosing rejecting the cliff edge between work and retirement in favor of a gradual step down. And employers should help them to do this.”

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