Holding Off Dementia
A new study by researchers at the University of Cambridge has discovered that people who have received more education are less likely to develop dementia. Previous studies have looked at this issue but have been unable to determine if it was education, and not its effects such as higher economic status or healthier living, that impacted the chances of dementia. This new study has found that dementia is in fact a direct consequence of the amount of education received earlier in life.
Dementia originates from the Latin de- "without" —ment "mind". It is a loss of cognitive ability by a previously unimpaired mind that goes beyond the expectations of normal aging. It is much more common in the elderly population, but may occur at any stage throughout adulthood. Areas of cognition that are affected include memory, attention, language, and problem solving. For all cases of dementia, the higher mental functions are the first to go, then so on until even the most basic mental abilities are impaired.
The Cambridge study, led by Professor Carol Brayne, has found that individuals with varied levels of education have similar brain pathology. However, those with more education are more equipped to compensate for the effects of dementia.
"Previous research has shown that there is not a one-to-one relationship between being diagnosed with dementia during life and changes seen in the brain at death," says co-author, Dr. Hannah Keage. "One person may show lots of pathology in their brain while another shows very little, yet both may have had dementia. Our study shows education in early life appears to enable some people to cope with a lot of changes in their brain before showing dementia symptoms."
In other words, learning acts as an exercise for the brain, which is a muscle. Like other muscles in the body, the more it is used, the more it is challenged, the stronger it will become. Therefore, a stronger brain is more able to withstand the onset of dementia at an old age.
The researchers examined the brains of 872 people who were part of other aging studies. They had answered questionnaires about their level of education prior to their deaths. Because of the large size of the survey group, the study was able to determine its conclusions more accurately than previous studies.
This is a timely study due to the public health implications of aging populations in developed countries. It supports investment in education at a young age as a way to decrease health costs at a later age. It is also important for students to want to learn. However, it is even more important that adults never stop learning either. The mind must be kept sharp, so keep it educated. Instead of younger generations being burdened with caring for demented grandparents, they should be benefited by the wisdom of their elders.
For more information: http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/133/8/2210