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Affected Area of Brain in Early Dementia Linked to Career Choice

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Researchers find the area of the brain affected by a type of dementia that occurs in mid-life and is progressive and fatal, could be linked to choice of career. The disease that causes memory loss affects either the left or right side of the brain, unlike Alzheimer's disease that targets both sides equally.

Scientists from Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute, in collaboration with the Memory and Aging Centre at the University of California, San Francisco, and several U.S. and clinical sites throughout Europe analyzed data relating to dementia affecting individuals 65 years and younger. The disorder, known as frontemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) or frontotemporal dementia (FTD) results in personality and behavior changes, difficulty with language and becomes more widespread as the disease progresses.

For the study, researchers looked at medical records and MRI's of 588 patients diagnosed with dementia. They also correlated career with the area of brain tissue loss. "The disease appeared to attack the side of the brain that was the least used in the patient's professional life," said Dr. Nathan Spreng, who conducted the study as a psychology graduate student at Baycrest. Spreng is currently a post doctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University.

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The findings revealed for high school teachers, principals and other occupations requiring verbal skills, the right side of the brain was affected. For less verbal careers, it was the left side of the brain. In both cases, it was the temoral lobes of the brain where tissue loss occurred.

The scientists speculate using the brain makes it less vulnerable to dementia - individuals with careers that require strong verbal skills use their left brain, making it more resistant to frontotemporal lobar degeneration.

Another plausible explanation is "There may be an undetected functional impairment related to FTLD in these patients that biases them toward a certain career path decades before they get sick," explains Dr. Brian Levine of the Rotman Research Institute; senior author on the study.

The findings are not likely to hold true for other forms of dementia according to the authors. There was a direct link to career choice and the area of brain tissue loss in patients who suffer from the early form of dementia that affects 250,000 Americans a year.

Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care