Working later in life could prevent dementia - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Working later in life could prevent dementia

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The adage, what you don't use, you lose certainly applies to brain function.

In fact, working well past retirement age could help you avoid dementia. A study shows for each extra year of work, the risk is reduced by three percent. It shows that putting off retirement and staying active betters your chance of living on into your 'golden years' without loss of memory.

Doctors say having an occupation that challenges the brain and keeps it functioning will always lead to better mental health.

77-year-old Janet Christman won't call it quits. She still works part time, and volunteers when she isn't working.

"I just think if you keep your mind occupied, that your mind doesn't go stale," says Christman. "I feel I can sit at home in a rocking chair when I have bad health or can't get out."

Christman says keeping active makes her feel better

"I think the more you can keep your mind occupied and learn new things, that keeps you young. Cause I don't feel my age," she says.

Dr. Hisham Hakim, a neurologist, says Christman is right on point.

"The more you utilize your brain function at its max, the better it operates. The concept of 'use it or lose it' is really very strong," says Hakim.  "I tell my patients that retirement is a death sentence. It literally is. Because most times when you retire a lot of medical problems arise."

Hakim says working into your later years can actually improve mental health.

"Longer working years after retirement continues to improve your brain ability. The interconnection of neurons and the speed of the stimulus that it carries. That's applied very well at all ages," says Hakim.

Dr. Shawn Harvey, a psychiatrist, believes this latest study leaves room for discussion.

"Is that a correlation we see because people who are working in their retirement years are more active? Or is it a direct effect of working that preserves cognitive function. That's a question that is yet to be answered," Harvey says.

Harvey says he has seen evidence that could support the study's findings.

"I see a lot of folks in their 60s, 70s, 80s. Those people who stay active have a much better prognosis as far as the typical aging process, not just with preserving their thinking abilities, but also with having any other onset of major disease states," he says.

Even working as a volunteer has its benefits.

69-year-old Beverly Sublette volunteers at the Hoover senior center. She sees her work as a "reason to be."

"You've got to have another life outside of helping your children and your grandchildren, you've got to have some other kind of a life," says Sublette.

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