More research continues to support the belief that lifestyle factors in old age - such as ongoing mental activities, exercise and a heart-healthy diet, positive attitude and social support – can all help reduce the risk for developing Alzheimer’s.
A recent study out of France indicates that staying in the work force longer and delaying retirement may also stave off the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Of the nearly 430,000 self-employed French workers followed in this study, researchers found that every extra year at their retirement age reduced their risk for dementia by 3%.
While these are preliminary results that will need to be studied further, it does seem to make sense that our Alzheimer’s risk could be lowered the longer we keep our minds sharp, have positive interactions with others and maintain our normal levels of physical activity related to work.
There is no doubt that personal lifestyle, dietary behaviours and possible genetics play a role in the onset of Alzheimer’s disease that will impact people differently – but it is always refreshing to hear of positive findings in the research of dementia.
After reviewing this new research, Dr. James Galvin, director of the Pearl Barlow Center for Memory Evaluation and Treatment at NYU, stated: “"Now we can add staying in the workforce to this list of potential protective factors."
Dr. Galvin went on to emphasize that “the study supports the concept that keeping oneself mentally, physically and socially active over the span of a lifetime may have important effects on both physical and mental health."
Due to financial reasons, Americans are continuing to put off retirement as long as possible in order to be more economically secure in their old age – particularly the middle class. The Alzheimer’s Association states that over 5 million Americans have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and that it is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S.
The findings in this French study may provide a silver lining to the otherwise dismal prospect of having to work well into one’s eighties in order to maintain a comfortable life.
The lower dementia rates related to higher retirement age are clearly associated with each other, but may not be a clear causal relationship.
Nevertheless, the “use it or lose it” theory of brain/cognitive function lends some support to these recent findings. Exercising the brain, just like any muscle, should keep it stronger over time.
According to Heather Snyder of the Alzheimer’s Association, "What we know is that things that promote lifelong learning seem to be beneficial. But that may mean different things for different people.”
Retirees who have long since left the work force need not despair either. As long we are actively engaged in mental and social activities, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease will be reduced.
Source: James E. Galvin, M.D., M.P.H., professor of neurology, psychiatry, nursing, nutrition and population health, and director, Pearl Barlow Center for Memory Evaluation and Treatment, Langone School of Medicine, New York University, New York City; Heather M. Snyder, Ph.D., director, medical and scientific operations, Alzheimer's Association, Chicago; July 15, 2013, presentation, Alzheimer's Association International Conference, Boston; Alzheimer’s Australia: http://www.fightdementia.org.au/; Alzheimer’s Association US: http://www.alz.org/; Image courtesy of taoty / FreeDigitalPhotos.net