News Column

Seniors Who Stay Active Can Slow Mental Decline, Experts Say

July 16, 2013

People who work with senior citizens in Berks County find anecdotal evidence to support a French study that indicates those who continue to work can avoid or delay mental decline.

"From what I've seen, people who are active as they age do better and suffer less physical and mental decline," said Dr. Ward G. Becker, 64, a Kutztown geriatrician.

"I had two colleagues who retired at 60 and were back to work one or two years later," Becker said. "They lamented that they retired too early.

"What people may need is to retire gradually, because retirement, for some, can result in depression and problems with self-worth. Depression is often found to be a marker for later forms of dementia.

"Basically, if you like what you're doing, you should keep doing it."

Claire Davis, vice president of constituent services of the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, which includes Berks County, called the study an important finding that supports keeping mentally active as one ages.

Davis is attending the Alzheimer's Association International Conference this week in Boston, where the results from the study were released.

"We never looked at professional activity as an important determinant of mental exercise and social integration," she said. "This research provides a great opportunity to look beyond the medical models of pharmacological treatments.

"It gives people something they can do, provides an active role for them in their own care."

Dr. Warqaa Majeed, neurologist at St. Joseph Medical Center in Bern Township, praised the study, but noted that Alzheimer's and severe dementia ultimately have genetic causes.

"If you have the bad gene, Alzheimer's is going to happen," she said. "If you have a neurodegenerative disease process, it is irreversible.

"But you can slow down the process by remaining physically and mentally active. Still, if you don't have the gene, it's wise to keep in shape to avoid forgetfulness and what's called mild cognitive decline.

"And, yes, depression is a big-time related symptom to this (cognitive decline)."

Martha Sitler, Berks Encore vice president of education, said the study reinforces her work in promoting senior citizen wellness programs throughout the county.

"One of our most popular programs is 'Clearing the Cobwebs,' which stresses keeping mentally and physically active in your senior years," she said. "We really push that because we think it's important for seniors to keep their minds creative.

"We believe if people decide not to keep working for whatever reason, they still must keep engaged by doing something, following a hobby or interest or volunteering."

Source: (c)2013 the Reading Eagle (Reading, Pa.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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