In a new study published in Neuroepidemiology that analyzed results from the memory tests of more than 11,000 older Europeans, researchers found that education can combat cognitive decline—to a point.
People took recall tests at the start of the study and every two years for nearly a decade, and when the scientists compared those results with the diagnoses of dementia or cognitive impairment, they found that people with higher education seemed to have lower rates of dementia.
But when the researchers then looked at what happened to the people who were diagnosed with dementia, they found that education didn’t seem to affect the rate at which the people’s cognitive functions declined. In other words, it didn’t matter how much education the people had once the dementia began.
That doesn’t mean that education isn’t an important part of preventing dementia. Dorina Cadar, a research associate in the department of behavioral health science at the University College of London and the study’s lead author, says that education gave people a larger cognitive reserve, so once cognitive decline began, it took them longer to experience the effects of the age-related slowing in their thinking abilities. Like a well-padded bank account, having more cognitive reserve gives people greater room to compensate for areas of the brain that might be failing over time. She notes that even an extra year of education can help people recall one additional word in recall tests years later. Even if learning more can’t prevent cognitive decline, it can make the effects of compromised thinking less obvious, and potentially less intrusive on a person’s daily life.
Crossword puzzles, having friends and learning new languages
Studies continue to support the fact that people who play cards, read or have strong friendships tend to develop dementia later than those who don’t engage in these activities. But some research is starting to suggest that the benefit may stop there. One study of nearly 1,200 older people found that while those who stay mentally active may experience dementia later, once dementia begins, they decline more quickly than those who aren’t so intellectually active. Read more