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Tough Job Is Beneficial For Health: Study

People with demanding jobs can live up to three years longer after being affected by a common form of dementia, say researchers.

The longer survival may be due to having greater mental reserves, which provide them with an effective buffer against the condition, it is claimed.

Doctors have long held that keeping your brain active – especially in later years – could be the best insurance against developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

The new study found that people with frontotemporal dementia – which results in changes in personality or behaviour and problems with language, but doesn’t affect memory – lived for longer if they had a more intellectually demanding occupation.

Study author Doctor Lauren Massimo, of Pennsylvania State University, said, “This study suggests that having a higher occupational level protects the brain from some of the effects of this disease, allowing people to live longer after developing the disease.”

Dr Massimo added, “People with frontotemporal dementia typically live six to 10 years after the symptoms emerge, but little has been known about what factors contribute to this range.”

Frontotemporal dementia, which often affects people under the age of 65, is also called Pick’s disease or frontal lobe dementia.

Rsearchers from the University of Pennsylvania looked at the influence of their primary occupation and education on survival of patients whose dementia was confirmed after death using post-mortem examinations.

Almost 100 cases were investigated, with around one third having been diagnosed with frontotemporal lobe dementia and the remainder had Alzheimer’s.

Occupations were ranked by US Census categories, with jobs such as factory workers and service workers in the lowest level; jobs such as tradesmen and sales people in the next level; and professional and technical workers – such as lawyers and engineers, in the highest level.

Researchers measured when the symptoms began by the earliest report from family members of persistently abnormal behaviour.

Survival was defined as from the time symptoms began until death.

The 34 people with frontotemporal dementia had an average survival time of about seven years.

The people with more challenging jobs were more likely to have longer survival times than those with less challenging jobs. People in the highest occupation level survived an average of 116 months.

However, people in the lower occupation group survived an average of 72 months, suggesting that people who had been in the professional workforce may live up to three years longer.

However, the study found that occupational level was not associated with longer survival for the people with Alzheimer’s disease dementia.

The number of years of education a person had did not affect the survival time in either disease, says a report online in the journal Neurology.

“It has important implications for estimates of prognosis and studies such as treatment trials,” says the study.

The researchers said it was unclear how occupation might affect survival, although it is thought that more demanding jobs increase ‘brain power’ by exercising the mind so it has greater reserves when disease takes hold.

Researchers have debated whether a more stimulating environment may build up a person’s ‘cognitive reserve’, acting as a buffer allowing the brain to function in spite of damage, or whether people with higher thinking skills tend to go into more challenging occupations.

According to a study last year from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, workers doing more complex jobs including doctors, lawyers, architects and teachers were found to be less at risk of dementia in later life,

Another international study found speaking a second language may delay dementia by five years.

In Britain, around 830,000 people have dementia, with most suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Previous research has found regular exercise can cut the risk of developing dementia, while other studies suggest keeping the brain active by doing crosswords, playing cards and computer work.

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said, “This small study adds to growing evidence about factors from life that could influence brain health as we age. Keeping the brain active throughout life could be helpful and different types of work may play a role, but from this study we cannot conclude that occupation has a direct influence on survival time in frontotemporal dementia. The researchers did not account for other factors, which may have influenced survival time and the findings were subtle. Follow-up studies are required to gain a clearer picture of whether occupational attainment may influence survival time in people with dementia.”

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