Frontotemporal dementia: more challenging jobs linked to longer survival

23 Apr

A new study published in the journal Neurology finds that having a more challenging job may prolong survival for people with frontotemporal dementia.
A man in the office with colleagues
Compared with FTD patients who have less challenging jobs, those with more challenging jobs may live 3 years longer after symptom onset, the study suggests.

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a group of disorders that can lead to changes in personality and behavior, loss of language skills and problems with movement, among other symptoms.

Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, FTD does not affect the memory. Caused by progressive cell degeneration in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, FTD is also common among those under the age of 65, with this age group accounting for 20-50% of all cases.

People with FTD live for an average of 6-10 years from the onset of symptoms. But according to Lauren Massimo, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania State University, and colleagues, it is unclear what factors contribute to the survival of individuals with FTD.

For their study, Massimo and colleagues set out to determine whether a person’s occupation may influence their survival following onset of FTD.

Professional workers ‘may live 3 years longer’ after symptom onset

To reach their findings, the researchers analyzed the medical records of 83 deceased patients who had an autopsy to determine a diagnosis of FTD or Alzheimer’s. It was confirmed that 34 of these patients had FTD.

The team also analyzed the patients’ job history, ranking each occupation by the US Census categories they fell into.

Jobs such as factory and service workers were ranked at the lowest level, occupations such as sales people and tradesworkers were categorized into the next level, while people with professional and technical jobs – such as lawyers and engineers – were in the highest level.

The researchers were able to pinpoint when the patients were diagnosed with FTD through reports of abnormal behavior by family members. The team defined patients’ survival as from the time of symptom onset until death.

Patients with FTD survived for an average of 7 years after symptom onset, according to the team.

The found, however, that patients who had more challenging occupations had longer survival; they survived for an average of 116 months, compared with 72 months for patients with less challenging occupations. This indicates that professional workers with FTD may live up to 3 years longer after symptom onset.

Commenting on the team’s findings, Massimo says:

“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.”

The team notes that the survival of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia did not appear to be influenced by occupational status.

In November 2014, Medical News Today reported on another study published in Neurology, which suggests people who work in more complex jobs may have better memory and thinking skills later in life.

The researchers of that study found that the cognitive test scores of people who worked in more complex jobs – such as architects, lawyers and teachers – were around 1-2% better than those of people who worked in less complex jobs, such as painters and carpet fitters.