Teachers are significantly more likely than people in other professions to be diagnosed with progressive speech and language disorders, according to a new Mayo Clinic study.
Speech and language disorders, or SLDs, affect patients’ ability to communicate through speaking or writing, rendering them unable to come up with words, produce sentences with correct grammar or articulate properly. It is different from Alzheimer’s dementia, which primarily involves loss of memory. SLDs become progressively more severe over time, with death occurring on average between seven and 10 years after onset.
The study, whose results were published this month in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias, came about after Mayo Clinic doctors noticed that a high percentage of their SLD patients were educators.
Using Alzheimer’s patients as a control group, the study found that the odds of being a teacher with SLD were 3.4 times higher than being a teacher with Alzheimer’s dementia. For other occupations, there was no statistical difference between the SLD group and the Alzheimer’s group. The study controlled for the percentage of teachers in the general population as counted in the U.S. Census.
Keith Josephs, a professor of neurology and a neurodegenerative specialist at Mayo and the report’s lead author, said the results do not necessarily mean that teachers are more likely to have SLDs, but that they may be more apt to notice when they start to lose language.
“Teachers are constantly communicating with folks, much more so than certain other professions,” Josephs said. “The fact that teachers are using language daily and continuously may make them more sensitive to when they start to lose it.”
SLDs can strike people as early as their 30s and up until their 80s, he said, adding that the condition is not well known among the general public in part because it is not associated with a well-known patient.
“Everyone knows about Alzheimer’s, which President Reagan had, and everyone knows Michael J. Fox has Parkinson’s,” he said. “I think the population needs to recognize that there is a neurological condition that causes patients to lose their ability to speak that is different from Alzheimer’s.”