Healthy Living

The Role of Mental Activity in Preventing or Delaying Alzheimer's

The Role of Mental Activity in Preventing or Delaying Alzheimer's

A title like “Later retirement may help prevent dementia” is no doubt meant to catch the attention of any reader. Dementia is something that many people in the aging population fear, so any prospect for avoiding this condition is exciting. While, a title like this may be a bit bold and a little exaggerated, it could also hold some value for many of those affected by the disease.

Alzheimer’s is a bit tricky. The causes are not well understood, and there is no cure at this time. Alzheimer’s disease is also the only disease in the list of top 10 leading causes of death that cannot be slowed or cured. There are numerous treatments out there, but many have serious side effects, and may not be super helpful in the first place. Throughout the world, 35 million people are affected by dementia, with Alzheimer’s being the most common form. According to the Alzheimer’s Association there are 5.5 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s.

A recent study discusses how delaying retirement may help people avoid the development of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. This is all based on the “use it or lose it” theory. This is the idea that maintaining regular mental activity throughout life helps you to keep the same level of mental functioning. Researchers in Boston looked at a French study that found that in almost half a million people, staying mentally sharp lessened or delayed their risk of developing dementia. One of the benefits of this study was the size as researchers reported that it is by far the largest that has been done on this subject.

It is often thought that as people age they lose their ability to learn and that mental decline or dementia is a normal part of aging. But, this is false. Dementia and mental decline are actually abnormal, so there needs to be a way to prevent both conditions. 

As people age it is important that they maintain mental, social, and physical activity. The German psychoanalyst Erik Erikson developed stages of development. One of these stages is called Generativity Vs. Stagnation, which happens much later in life. This theory reflects on the importance of people being productive as they age so that they have a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Working past retirement can not only achieve both, but it can also ensure that older adults continue to be challenged mentally, which can ultimately help prevent cognitive decline.

Carole Dufouil a scientist at the French government’s health research agency called INSERM claims that, “For each additional year of work, the risk of getting dementia is reduced by 3.2%." The research that she led was presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Boston. France is particularly skilled at researching Alzheimer’s, because the previous French president made it a priority. The research was based on records that the French government had of people who had retired for an average of 12 years by December, 2010.