Researchers from all over the world came together this week to share their latest findings at what is known as the world’s leading forum on dementia research at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC). Two big stories came from that conference. One, delaying retirement could cut the risk for developing dementia . Second, research is shifting to focus on people who believe they experience early signs of dementia  well before traditional testing would confirm the disease. As the sixth leading cause of death and the most common form of dementia, health care providers, patients and caregivers are paying close attention to these major findings on Alzheimer’s disease.
Use it or Lose it
The “use it or lose it” study looked at more than 500,000 people in France, a country which is quickly becoming known for research on Alzheimer’s. Analyzing the data, researchers found that not only was there an association between working longer and one’s risk for developing dementia, the relation was drawn that work impacted cognition and not the other way around. If you were to retire at the age of 65, researchers found, you are 15 percent less likely to develop dementia than someone who retired at the age of 60. If you work another year, the risk declines 3.2 percent year-over-year.
By working, we are staying mentally active and exercising our brains daily. This research confirms the importance of working on mental fitness at every age, regardless of employment. Continuing to pursue interests or hobbies in the golden years, as well as staying connected with family and friends, learning new skills, and eating and sleeping well all contribute to our overall mental health. For those who have retired, working part-time or volunteering on a regular basis may be options to add the framework of work back into daily life, reaping the benefits of a reduced risk of developing dementia.
Recognizing Early Signs
Five studies  presented at the AAIC this week found the early signs patients believe they are experiencing, also known as subjective cognitive decline (SCD), may be valid markers for indicating Alzheimer’s disease much earlier than current tests. This major development is of particular interest to health care providers, who want to identify Alzheimer’s as early as possible to begin treatment and slow progression of the mind-robbing disease.
Researchers discovered among those who had SCD, they were more likely to have amyloid, a protein related to Alzheimer’s, in their brain. However, not everyone who experiences concern over their memory loss will develop Alzheimer’s, according to the data. Memory decline is a part of the normal aging process. For example, if you forget why you walked into the living room, you are less likely to develop dementia than if you forget important dates, the names of family members and get lost in what should be a familiar place.
This development, researchers say, could lead to a new category of diagnosis and study – preclinical Alzheimer’s. As the cases of Alzheimer’s continue to rise each year, having the opportunity to treat and study the earliest stages of the disease could lead to better treatment and potential prevention.
Photo courtesy of AAIC.