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Does education protect against dementia and related mental decline?

Does education protect against dementia and related mental decline?


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How does improved education affect the risk of dementia?

It has long been believed that increased education can better protect people from the effects of brain diseases such as Alzheimer's. Numerous studies in the past have indicated that dementia is less likely to develop in better educated people. However, a current study has now concluded that there are only slight differences in the risk of developing dementia, which can be attributed to the education of the patient.

In their current study, the scientists at the Rush University Medical Center found that it does not make much of a difference in the risk of developing dementia what education the sufferers have. The experts published the results of their study in the English-language journal "Neurology".

Education does not protect against dementia mental decline

Education doesn't seem to have much of an impact when it comes to reducing or slowing brain cell damage caused by dementia or the rate at which mental decline is progressing. It has long been believed that education could be a factor that better protects people from brain diseases, said study author Professor Robert S. Wilson from the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

How does education affect cognitive function levels in old age?

The effects of education on the brain are like the effects of weight lifting on the muscles. The more education a person has, the larger certain areas of the brain become and the more connections between the synapses, the expert explains. Those who are better educated start with a higher level of cognitive function in old age, Professor Wilson continues. This explains why rates of dementia appear to be lower in highly educated people than in other people. However, a higher level of education does not slow down the rate at which people's thinking and memory deteriorate, the study author adds.

Examination had nearly 3,000 subjects

For their current study, the scientists analyzed data from the so-called Religious Order Study and the Rush Memory and Aging Project. Subjects from both studies were examined annually for cognitive changes. They also agreed to donate their brains to the autopsy should they die. The 2,889 participants had an average education of 16.5 years, an average age of 77.8 years and no signs of dementia when they participated in the two studies. At the end of the current study, 1,044 subjects had died and dementia was diagnosed in 696 patients.

Education improved outcomes in mind and memory tests

The researchers divided the test subjects into three different groups depending on their level of education: 12 or less years, 13 to 16 years and 17 or more years. Although the participants had been in school for many years, it became clear that more education at the beginning of the study led to better results in thinking and memory tests. After the decline in intellectual performance began, the existing education had no influence on the decrease rate, say the doctors.

Protective effect of cognitively stimulating activities in old age

Professor Wilson suspects that while schooling did not affect the rate of decline, learning new things in old age could make a difference. People who are more involved in cognitively stimulating activities in old age seem to tolerate the pathology of brain diseases better. Affected people break down mentally less quickly, compared to people who were not so cognitively active, explains the expert. Another factor that helps people stay sane is physical activity. A previous study had already shown that aerobic exercise caused a significant increase in mental functions and an increased thickness in the frontal cortex of the brain in people between the ages of 20 and 67 years. (as)

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