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Is your occupation bad for the brain? Study lists potential occupational risks for neurodegenerative diseases.

An investigation of potential associations between occupation and brain disease suggests that a wide variety of jobs may be associated with modest increases in the risk of dying from neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's disease (PD), motor neuron disease, Alzheimer's disease (AD), and presenile or early-onset dementia (various forms of dementia--usually AD--that begin before age 65).

If the findings are borne out by follow-up studies, they may lead to a better understanding of specific environmental risk factors for these diseases, and the development of preventive strategies.

Researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reviewed more than 2.6 million U.S. death records in 22 states spanning the years 1992 to 1998. Their findings are consistent with some earlier research that had linked specific jobs to neurodegenerative diseases, and strengthen the case that environmental exposure to toxic substances may sometimes play a role in these disorders. Other associations are more difficult to interpret, and may reflect factors such as socioeconomic status.

Among the job-disease relationships revealed by the research, scientists found that clergy and other religious workers, biological and medical scientists, horticultural specialists, and post-secondary school teachers had a higher risk of dying from PD.

Those with greater odds of dying from AD included aircraft mechanics, broadcast equipment operators, dental laboratory workers, hairdressers, horticultural specialists, electrical equipment repair workers, production testers, and veterinarians.

The analysis ranked dental assistants and dental lab workers, excavating and grading operators, food counter and fountain workers, precision textile and machine workers, graders and sorters in non-agricultural industries, and veterinarians at greater risk for motor neuron diseases such as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Hairdressers, bank tellers, dentists, pest control workers, physicians, photographic process machine workers, supervisory cleaning and building service workers, post-secondary teachers, and clergy face greater risk of presenile dementia.

The investigators also claim that their findings support prior work suggesting that substantial exposure to certain types of magnetic fields, solvents, and welding may carry excess risk of certain neurodegenerative diseases.

"The small increases in risk identified in this study do not mean that because you have been employed in a specific job you are fated to develop a neurodegenerative disease," says Deborah Blacker, MD, ScD, director of the Gerontology Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital. "First of all, the work is preliminary, and it is unclear whether the apparent increased risk noted in some occupations is real. Moreover, even if it is real, the increased risk that may be associated is quite small. A wide variety of other factors, including genetics, lifestyle and overall health also play an important part in risk for neurodegenerative diseases.

"But in identifying occupations and specific exposures linked to higher risk, this study lays the groundwork for future research. Some associations--such as higher risk for disease among clergy and teachers--are difficult to interpret. Others may help narrow the search for job-related hazards such as toxic fumes, solvents, dyes, and other chemicals, and offer hope that protecting people from exposure to these hazards might reduce the incidence of brain disease."

MEDICATIONS THAT CAN IMPAIR MENTAL FUNCTIONING

As we age, we take more medications, increasing the risk of mental impairment associated with drug use and drug interactions. And because our bodies become more sensitive to drugs with the passing years, we're more apt to suffer side effects even at low doses. If you're taking prescription and/or nonprescription drugs and are concerned about unusual mental symptoms, consult your doctor. Many drugs have side effects that impact the brain, including these common medications:

* Antianxiety agents * analgesics * antihistamines * antidepressants such as Elavil and Tofrani * anti-hypertensives * anti-psychotics such as Haldol, Mellaril, and Thorazine * anti-asthma drugs * benzodiazepines (tranquilizers and sleeping pills) * Cimetidine * Darvon * digitalis * glaucoma eye drops * hormones such as Synthroid and Thyroxin * Lithium * methyldopa * beta blockers such as Propranolol * steroids such as Prednisone.
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Publication:Mind, Mood & Memory
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2006
Words:631
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