Delaying retirement could prevent early dementia, say scientists

Research suggests significant link between later retirement and delayed symptoms of Alzheimer's disease

Working beyond normal retirement age might help stave off dementia, scientists said today.

Keeping the brain active later in life appears to reduce the chances of an early onset of Alzheimer's disease, according to a study of 382 men with probable dementia. The researchers suggest a significant link between later retirement and delayed symptoms.

The findings emerged from a wider study on data from 1,320 people with dementia led by members of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College, London, and funded by the Alzheimer's Research Trust and the Medical Research Council.

The researchers found no link between education or employment and dementia risk, but found that those who retired later prolonged their mental abilities above the threshold for dementia.

Simon Lovestone, scientific adviser to the trust and one of the authors of a paper published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, said: "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. Much more research is needed if we are to understand how to effectively delay, or even prevent, dementia."

Rebecca Wood, the trust's chief executive, said: "More people than ever retire later in life to avert financial hardship, but there may be a silver lining: lower dementia risk. Much more research into lifestyle factors is needed if we are to whittle down the £17bn a year that dementia costs our economy."

The research paper said there might be other explanations for the findings. People who had early disease symptoms before the onset of dementia was formally recorded may have been influenced by these when they made their decision to retire early. Similarly, they may have had hypertension or diabetes, both risk factors for dementia.

The paper added: "The possibility that the nature of retirement is changing must also be considered. It is at least plausible that retirement has become more stimulating over time. Our data suggests a continuing positive effect of cognitive activities into later life. This may give some encouragement to the increasing investigations into cognitive training in later life and adds weight to the notion of an active retirement."

Dr Susanne Sorensen, head of research at the Alzheimer's Society, said: "The best way to reduce your risk of dementia is to combine keeping physically active with eating a balanced diet and getting your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly. One million people will develop dementia in the next 10 years. Investing in research into how to prevent dementia is vital if we are to defeat this devastating condition."


James Meikle

The GuardianTramp

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