Megan Brooks

July 16, 2013

BOSTON, Massachusetts — Retirement may not be good for your brain, according to a new study from France, which links older age at retirement to a reduced risk of developing dementia.

Mounting evidence suggests that engaging in intellectually stimulating activity throughout life may protect against the development of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. Professional activity may be an important determinant of mental activity.

Yet "very few studies have looked at retirement and dementia risk," said study leader Carole Dufouil, PhD, director of research in neuroepidemiology at INSERM at the Bordeaux School of Public Health in France.

These new findings underscore the "importance of maintaining high levels of cognitive and social stimulation throughout work and retiree life," Dr. Dufouil said.

Use It or Lose It

In this study, her team linked health and pension databases for 429,803 self-employed workers in France who were living and retired as of December 31, 2010. A total of 11,397 of the retirees had dementia (2.65%).

Overall, in multivariable analyses, for each extra year of age at retirement, the risk for dementia was 3.2% lower (hazard ratio, 0.968; 95% confidence interval, 0.962 - 0.973), Dr. Dufouil reported at a media briefing here July 15 at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC) 2013.

"In this sample, all other risk factors being equal, those who retired at 65 years old had a 14.6% lower risk of getting dementia than those who retired at 60 years old," she said.

Even after exclusion of workers with dementia diagnosed within 5 years after retirement, the results remained unchanged and highly significant (P < .0001). The results also held up in further analyses stratified by age categories or year of dementia diagnosis.

"This study provides more evidence to support the 'use it or lose it' mantra; keep your brain active as long as possible to increase your changes of a healthy aging brain," Maria Carrillo, PhD, vice president of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer's Association, said in an interview with Medscape Medical News.

David S. Knopman, MD, from the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, who moderated the briefing, said this study also speaks to the issue of cognitive reserve.

"We have evidence from both epidemiology and some very nice evidence from the imaging world that shows that there are logical relationships between burden of disease and susceptibility to cognitive impairment that is a function of cognitive reserve. Clearly, cognitive activity throughout life does have an influence on your risk [of cognitive decline] later on," he said.

The study was funded by the International Longevity Center of France. The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC) 2013. Oral Presentation O2-13-1. Presented July 15, 2013.

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