Does More Education Lower Dementia Risk?

Does More Education Lower Dementia Risk?

Does More Education Lower Dementia Risk?

According to a 2010 study at the University of Cambridge, it does. But the reality may not be what you expect. Having done more years of schooling may make you less vulnerable to dementia, but it does not necessarily protect against neurodegeneration.[1] That is to say, your brain could still be impacted physically by cognitive deterioration, but having more education appears to offset the symptoms of this deterioration. These findings are consistent with what scientist call “cognitive reserve,” the hypothesis that more education helps the brain compensate for pathological burden, i.e. the burden of the symptoms associated with neuropathological damage. This is because when the brain is challenged and engages with the world around it, it makes new connections and becomes rewired, so to speak. This compensation, if the hypothesis is true, helps individuals become more resilient to the symptoms of neurodegeneration, in turn lowering their risk for dementia.

This research does not indicate that having less education results in more neurodegeneration in old age, but that less education may mean an individual cannot handle the burden of brain damage as much as someone with more education can.

One must not assume however that this relationship is deterministic. The picture is a lot more complicated. Dr. Kenneth Langa at the University of Michigan says that education may make your brain stronger, but people with more education are, statistically speaking, healthier people. He states, “Education sets you off on a different path in your life; it sends you into different occupations. You may live in different neighborhoods, have less stress, have more money. That gives you access to better health care and social networks.”[2] Education confers advantages beyond mental health that may influence your overall physical health and access to healthcare services, which can have combined and cumulative benefits for your brain.

Education has a complex set of effects on an individual, so it is important to consider all factors. Nevertheless, research on the role of education and dementia is becoming more important as questions about the relationship between things like social inequality and healthcare are coming to the fore.

[1] Brayne, Carole, et al. “Education, the brain, and dementia: neuroprotection or compensation?” Brain 133 (2010): 2210-2216.

[2] Soure: http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/02/11/466403316/can-dementia-be-prevented-education-may-bolster-brain-against-risk

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