Delayed Retirement May Postpone Dementia
> 5/19/2009 9:37:40 PM

Clinical evidence continues to support the theory that elderly, dementia-prone individuals can delay the condition’s worst symptoms by maintaining active lifestyles.

A small British study involving 382 older men suffering from what researchers believed to be the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease reinforced previous clinical research projects’ conclusions that subjects who remain active in various ways often experience a later onset of severe dementia symptoms.  The key variable in this study was time of retirement: researchers found that the longer the men in the study stayed in their jobs, the less likely they were to report severe dementia-like symptoms during its breadth. Each year that a subject remained in his position coincided with, on average, a six-week delay in the onset of related symptoms. Each individual’s retirement date actually played a stronger role in this equation than either his education level or his particular profession.

The possible reasons for this finding are many: most elderly Alzheimer’s patients have pre-existing health problems that make these active lifestyles more difficult to maintain, and conditions like chronic anxiety or high blood pressure have been tied to accelerated of cognitive decline. On a very basic neurological level, the act of maintaining an active brain keeps the links between brain cells strong; the deterioration and eventual loss of those cells is the underlying force behind dementia and Alzheimer’s.  An unoccupied brain swamped with worry simply doesn’t hold up as well.

This finding closely mirrors studies asserting that physical, social and intellectual activity benefits Alzheimer’s patients even after the disease has begun to make itself evident. An elderly individual who gets a small amount of exercise each day, interacts with others and performs various mentally stimulating activities like reading, playing games or completing puzzles has a better immediate outcome regardless of age, educational history or temperament. Existing medical treatments for these conditions remain relatively weak, and staying active is in many ways the most effective practice for affected patients.

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