Frontotemporal dementia, which accounts for between 140,000 and 350,000 cases of dementia, often strikes the young and healthy. A majority of cases occur among people younger than 65, potentially sidelining successful careers and active lives. Unlike some other forms of dementia, frontotemporal dementia in its early stages primarily affects behavior, then progresses to difficulties with speech. The condition eventually kills, usually by destroying muscle function.
A frontotemporal dementia diagnosis can be devastating, particularly since no treatment can stop it. A new study, though, suggests that working a challenging job may slow its progression.
Frontotemporal Dementia: The Benefits of Challenging Work
Most people with frontotemporal dementia live six to 10 years after the diagnosis, but researchers know little about which factors increase or diminish life span. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania State University set out to explore the role of occupation by consulting the medical records of 83 deceased dementia patients. Thirty-four had frontotemporal dementia.
Researchers gathered the patients’ job histories, assigning a ranking based on how intellectually demanding each job was. Factory and service workers were ranked lowest, followed by salespeople and trade workers. Professions such as attorney or engineer were ranked highest.
Of the 34 patients with frontotemporal dementia, the average length of survival after receiving a diagnosis was seven years. Those with the most challenging occupations lived longer, surviving an average of 116 months (more than 9½ years), compared to just 72 months (six years) for those in the least demanding occupations.
Those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia did not experience an increase in survival with more challenging occupations.
How an Active Intellectual Life May Combat Dementia
Experts have long advised maintaining a demanding intellectual life to prevent dementia. A 2014 study found that a demanding job could improve memory late in life. The Alzheimer’s Association advises staying mentally active well into old age, and suggests the following:
- Continue learning and remain curious for the entirety of your life.
- Attend intellectually demanding events, such as plays and lectures.
- Take adult education courses.
- Participate in physically and intellectually demanding tasks.
- Do memory games and exercises.
- Frontotemporal dementia. (2005, December 31). Retrieved from https://caregiver.org/frontotemporal-dementia
- Frontotemporal dementia: More challenging jobs linked to longer survival. (2015, April 23). Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/292699.php
- Stay mentally active. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.alz.org/we_can_help_stay_mentally_active.asp
- Working in complex jobs linked to better later-life memory and thinking skills. (2014, November 20). Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/285652.php
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