Does your mindset put your brain at risk? The mind matters in dementia prevention, according to Academy Research Fellow Alina Solomon. TEXT ULLA KALTIALA ILLUSTRATION RAIJA TÖRRÖNEN
ALINA SOLOMON, a medical doctor and Adjunct Professor dividing her working time between the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio, the National Institute of Health and Welfare in Helsinki, and Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, studies the ageing brain, with a special focus on dementia prevention. When you take good care of your health in general, you also protect your brain. Some choices should be easy: eat healthy food, exercise, don’t smoke, use alcohol in moderation, if at all, and take your prescribed medicines to keep cardiovascular risk factors under control. But it may require more self-awareness to ward off dementia by keeping your mind active in a good way and by paying attention to how your mindset affects your lifestyle habits. How to cope with stress is a good example. “Stress can be a positive force that helps you to stay motivated and get things done. But you have to be aware of your personal limits. Too much stress and too little recovery is a risk,” Solomon says.
IN THE FINNISH CAIDE STUDY, people who reported higher work-related stress at midlife were more likely to have dementia 21 years later. In MRI measurements of the brain, high work-related stress was linked to grey-matter volume atrophy within the same follow-up period. In other words, stress build-up at work could literally shrink your brain in the long run. The study was the first to focus specifically on work-related stress and long-term dementia risk. Work-related stress was measured using two scaled questions: ‘How often do you struggle to cope with the amount of work?’ and ‘How often are you bothered by constant hurry at work?’ Interestingly, it was the time pressure and not work demands as such that seemed to increase dementia risk. Other studies have found that higher work demands may even have a protective effect. “It probably makes a difference if your work is intellectually stimulating,” Solomon says. The researchers also noticed that the link between work stress and dementia or brain atrophy was only limited to the first follow-up. In a 30-year follow-up, the statistical association could not be found anymore. “This may mean there’s a critical time window when work-related stress can be especially harmful.” “This finding is something to consider when the retirement age is being raised and people are exposed to work-related stress for longer than before. Well-being at work becomes all the more important,” Solomon points out.
26 UEF BULLETIN 2018
It was the time pressure and not work demands as such that seemed to increase dementia risk.