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For sufferers of an early-onset dementia, career choice may determine location of disease in brain
Date:9/22/2010

rbal skills, such as school principals, had greater tissue loss on the right side of the brain, whereas those rated low for verbal skills, such as flight engineers, had greater tissue loss on the left side of the brain. This effect was expressed most clearly in the temporal lobes of the brain.

"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 and is now a post doctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University.

The brain's left hemisphere, particularly the temporal lobe, is specialized for language and verbal skills. In occupations ranked highly for verbal skills, tens of thousands of hours of applying these skills may build reserve capacity by strengthening connections in the brain's left hemisphere, making it more resistant to damage due to FTLD, suggested Dr. Spreng. This process may also make the right hemisphere, which is less concerned with verbal tasks, more vulnerable to dementia through disuse.

Yet the researchers could not rule out an alternative explanation. "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," said Dr. Brian Levine of the Rotman Research Institute and senior author on the study.

What is common to both explanations is that the patients' selection and practice of an occupation early in life was related to their brain changes later in life. The authors cautioned that the results were limited to FTLD and may not hold for other brain diseases or conditions.

There is no evidence that someone with a particularly verbal or non-verbal profession is vulnerable to brain disease. However, if that person were to develop FTLD (affecting approximately 250,000 Americans and 25,000 Canadians a year), the location of the diseas
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Contact: Kelly Connelly
kconnelly@baycrest.org
416-785-2432
Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care
Source:Eurekalert  

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