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By Traci Pedersen

In people who develop the disease frontotemporal dementia, those with more demanding jobs may live about three years longer than those with less skilled jobs, according to a new study published in the journal Neurology.

Frontotemporal dementia, which often develops in people still under the age of 65, causes changes in personality or behavior and problems with language, but does not affect the memory.

“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,” said study author Lauren Massimo, Ph.D., CRNP, of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania State University in State College, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study findings support the theory of “cognitive reserve,” which asserts that factors such as longer education, challenging occupations, and mental activity build up connections in the brain that create a buffer against disease.

“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,” Massimo said.

For the study, researchers looked at the medical charts of 83 people who had an autopsy after death to confirm the diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. They compared this information to people’s primary occupation.

Jobs were ranked by U.S. Census categories, with careers such as factory workers and service workers in the lowest level; jobs such as tradesworkers and sales people in the next level; and professional and technical workers, such as lawyers and engineers, at the highest level.

Researchers looked at when the dementia symptoms began based on the earliest report from family members telling of persistently abnormal behavior. Survival was defined as from the time symptoms began until death.

According to the findings, the 34 people who had developed frontotemporal dementia had an average survival time of about seven years. Those with more challenging jobs were more likely to have longer survival times than those with less challenging jobs.

Frontotemporal dementia patients in the highest occupation level survived an average of 116 months, while people in the lower occupation group survived an average of 72 months, suggesting that people with more challenging jobs may live up to three years longer.

The findings showed that occupational level was not linked to a longer lifespan in those with Alzheimer’s disease dementia. The number of years of education a person had was not linked to a longer life in either type of dementia.

Source: American Academy of Neurology

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