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Later retirement 'delays Alzheimer's onset

18 May 2009

There are 700,00 people living with dementia in the UK today, the most common form of which is Alzheimer’s disease.  As the risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease increases dramatically with increasing age, it can be useful to look at what age a person begins to develop the disease rather than their lifetime risk. Finding out what lifestyle factors affect this age of onset could be useful in the development of new ways to delay or even prevent dementia.  

It has been shown previously that education can have a protective effect on risk and delay the age of onset of the disease, those with a higher level of education generally develop the Alzheimer’s disease later. From exercising the brain through education they have more or stronger neuronal connections and so can cope with the damage caused by disease for longer, having a later onset of symptoms. This is called cognitive reserve. We investigated whether cognitive reserve could also be improved later in life by a person’s employment and the age at which they retire.

We analysed data from Alzheimer’s disease patients looking at whether education, employment and retirement has an effect on the age of onset of Alzheimer’s disease. In this group there was no effect of education or employment but a significant effect of retirement age, where for the 382 males in the study those who retired later tended to develop disease symptoms later. An extra year of work delayed the onset on average by 6 weeks. More research is needed to access the reason behind these findings but it may be that the intellectual stimulation that older people gain from the work place prevents a decline in mental abilities keeping people above the threshold for dementia for longer. The possibility that a persons cognitive reserve can still be modified later in life adds weight to the “use it or lose it” concept where keeping active later in life has important health benefits including reducing dementia risk.

This analysis was carried out on data from the Medical Research Council genetic resource for late onset AD and was funded by the MRC, the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, the MRC Centre for Neurodegeneration Research and the NIHR BRC for Mental Health at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.

The full article entitled 'Education, occupation and retirement age effects on the age of onset of Alzheimer’s disease' is published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry by the following authors; Michelle Lupton, Daniel Stahl, Nicola Archer, Catherine Foy, Michaela Poppe, Simon Lovestone, Paul Hollingworth, Julie Williams, Micheal Owen, Kimberley Dowzell, Richard Abraham, Rebecca Sims, Carol Brayne, David Rubinsztein, Michael Gill, Brian Lawlor, Aoibhinn Lynch and John Powe

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