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Education can help you beat dementia

Harold Mandel's picture
An elderly couple

There has been a trend towards less dementia in elderly people, particularly among the well educated.


As people age a big concern is possibly being hit with dementia. One good way to avoid dementia is to get a good education according to researchers.

Dementia among the elderly has been decreasing, particularly among people who are well educated

The University of Michigan Health System reports that dementia among the elderly has been decreasing, particularly among people who are well educated. This is a good sign in general even though the impact on people who get dementia and their caregivers remains enormous.

A new study has found the percent of elderly people in the United States has been decreasing. This downward trend in dementia has been seen even though several major risk factors for dementia have been increasing. These risk factors include obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.

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In this study the people who had the most years of education had less chances of developing dementia than others. It seems this explains the trend towards less dementia overall because elderly people today more often have at least a high school diploma than elderly people just a decade ago.

Improved brain health in elderly people is linked to more education

David R. Weir, Ph.D., the senior author of the paper, says the large investments the United States has made in education ever since World War II seem to be paying off with the finding of improved brain health in elderly people. However, because the number of elderly people has been growing, the burden of dementia overall has still been on the rise.

Lead author Kenneth Langa, M.D., Ph.D., says in this study the only marker which was tracked was years of formal education. However it is likely that there is also a significant impact on dementia risk later in life from the ways in which people challenge their brains and use them during their lifetime.

The "cognitive reserve concept" deals with healthy brain activities

Significant pursuits towards maintaining a healthy brain include reading, occupational endeavors, and social interactions. These pursuits can help develop pathways in the brain which can beat assaults by physical factors which can lead to dementia. This is known as the "cognitive reserve concept".

It should also be kept in mind that similar factors that can help lower cardiovascular risk can help lessen the risk for dementia. These factors include being more physically active and controlling diabetes and hypertension.

This study has been published in JAMA Internal Medicine. It seems that there will be a large rise in the number of adults with dementia in the United States due to the aging of the population. However, in the United States and other high income countries it appears that the age-specific risk of dementia may have been going down over the last 25 years. The decline in prevalence of dementia appears to be associated with an increase in educational attainment. It therefore appears the benefits of a good education can certainly pay off for a lifetime.