It is a long-held theory that the more time a person spends educating themselves, the better protected he or she is against dementia. Research has resulted in conflicting or inconclusive results, however, a new study suggests that while those with more education do demonstrate a higher level of cognitive functioning, it does not reduce dementia risk.
Learn more about the study and the relationship between education and dementia.
Education and Its Impact on Dementia Risk
The study, led by Robert S. Wilson, Ph.D., of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and published in Neurology, set out to provide more insight into education and dementia risk. Involving 2,899 participants, researchers followed the participants for an average of eight years. The average age of participants at the beginning of the study was 78 and nearly 25% developed dementia over the course of the study. Participants were split into three levels of education: 17+ years, 13-16 years and 12 years or less.
Researchers found that even decades after participants had finished their education, those who spent a longer time in education had a higher level of cognitive functioning. However, they also found that a higher education level did not affect dementia risk or onset.
Additionally, contrary to previous studies, the participants’ education had no impact on how quickly dementia progressed after its onset.
Why Education Is Important in Later Life
Wilson says the education and dementia risk findings are surprising, stating that the “finding that education apparently contributes little to cognitive reserve is surprising given that education affects cognitive growth and changes in brain structure.”
He says that the study indicates that “late-life activities involving memory and thinking skills, such as learning another language… or cognitively demanding work and having a purpose in life might be more important as we age.”
While the study was not entirely conclusive, it gives researchers a further understanding of the disease and the effects of education on the brain, suggesting that it becomes even more important with age.
Have you seen a correlation between your or a senior loved one’s education and dementia risk? We’d like to hear your experiences in the comments below.