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Do Farmers Have a Higher Chance of Getting Dementia?

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With traits such as hearing loss, depression and social isolation seen in both agriculture workers and those who suffer with dementia, University of Iowa College of Public Health assistant professor, Kanika Arora sought to determine if there was a connection.

In the first of its kind to the U.S. study, researchers used previous data from the Health and Retirement Study to discover that agriculture workers scored lower on tests related to memory, attention, and processing speed, according to CBS 2 Iowa’s recent article entitled “Recent study shows agriculture workers have a greater chance of having dementia.”

The Iowa study shows that agricultural workers have lower resistance against the effects of dementia, compared to people in professional or technical jobs. Although the onset of the disease may be delayed due to higher resistance to damage to the brain among professional and technical workers, the rate of decline may be faster due to the greater accumulation of brain pathology, Arora explained.

The University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study is a longitudinal panel study that surveys a representative sample of approximately 20,000 people in America, supported by the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration.

With hundreds of farmers calling Iowa home, and many working past the age of standard retirement, it raised concerns for a possible delay in a dementia diagnosis.

“As far as Iowans are concerned, this is important for two reasons. How to remain productive on the farm and how to maintain safety given memory loss, language problems and other unpredictable behaviors that come with dementia,” said Arora.

Researchers cannot directly examine the role of pesticide exposure to dementia, but previous studies on the amount of exposure to agricultural workers show the same test scores. Arora hopes future research is done on this connection.

The results of the study, recently published in the peer-reviewed Journal Gerontology: Social Sciences, can help researchers develop effective interventions to protect older farmers.

The researchers could not attribute the association to hearing impairment or depression—factors independently linked to both agriculture and dementia—the impact of pesticide exposure among agricultural workers may warrant further study, they said.

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Reference: CBS 2 Iowa (Jan. 31, 2021) “Recent study shows agriculture workers have a greater chance of having dementia”

Suggested Key Terms: Dementia