New Castle News

Editorials

July 17, 2013

Our Opinion: Study sees longer work as way to avoid dementia

NEW CASTLE — What’s a good way to avoid mental decline and dementia later in life?

Don’t retire.

At least that’s one conclusion to draw from a recent study out of France. Speaking this week at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Boston, Carole Dufouil, a scientist with the French government’s health research agency, laid out a compelling argument.

She cited a study of 429,000 French workers that determined the chances of people developing dementia declined by 3.2 percent for every year they worked. In short, the longer you work, the less the likelihood you would develop a disease affecting mental acuity.

Cynics might suggest the data reflects work — rather than dementia — becomes a cause of death in many instances. But the French research basically is in line with other studies indicating that people who remain physically and mentally active in their older years stave off the effects of mental decline.

In the workplace, people are obliged to think, deal with issues, relate to other people and otherwise be engaged with the rest of the world. With most jobs, people are required to be mentally active in order to perform properly.

While much of the research in this field tends to have an anecdotal quality to it, patterns have emerged that suggest people who remain active and involved are less likely to suffer dementia, or else they succeed in staving it off for a time.

Of course, that’s not the whole story. There is some data indicating Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia have genetic links. Relatively young individuals who are still working and still active can develop dementia. But it may be that even in these instances, mental activity can slow the progress of such ailments.

So does this mean researchers and physicians will soon begin recommending that people continue to work until they keel over from something else? Not exactly. Although the French research is tied to length of employment, what it’s likely documenting is how physical and mental activity aid the brain.

It’s not retirement that causes mental decline. Rather, it’s what people do after they leave the workplace that’s probably the determining factor.

If retirees slip into some routine, even if it involves nominal activity, they may be encouraging mental decline. But if they fill their hours with variety, and manage to challenge themselves in assorted ways, it’s likely these steps will work just as well as employment in terms of protecting the brain.

The bottom line here is that keeping the mind alert and active pays substantial health dividends over time. And we think it’s a bonus that these efforts also tend to enhance the overall quality of life.

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