Study: Lifelong Learning Could Protect Against Alzheimer Disease

A recent study revealed that social activities like gardening or getting a college degree could improve cognition in older age, which could possibly prevent Alzheimer disease.

Researchers analyzed genetic and life course factors contributing to a “cognitive reserve” that could prevent Alzheimer, published in the journal American Academy of Neurology.

Factors such as early-life education, having a combination of leisurely activities, occupation, and reading ability might positively influence this reserve. As a result, lifelong learning may be one of the best ways to protect the brain from cognitive decline.

“These results are exciting because they indicate that cognitive ability is subject to factors throughout our lifetime and taking part in an intellectually, socially and physically active lifestyle may help ward off cognitive decline and dementia,” said Dorina Cadar, PhD, Brighton and Sussex Medical School in the United Kingdom and study author, in a press release.

In the study, 1184 participants born in 1946 took a cognitive test when they were aged 8 years and 69 years. At age 53 years, researchers tested the participants’ reading ability to measure lifelong learning.

Researchers also used a cognitive reserve index to quantify a participants’ cognitive gain from education, leisure activities, and employment. The authors also studied the link between education and cognition at 26 years of age, then gauged the cognitive effect of leisure activities at 43 years of age. Finally, they looked at the role of occupation on participants at 53 years of age.

The average score among participants 69 years of age on the cognitive test was 92, with a maximum score of 100 and the lowest score being a 53.

The participants who were 8 years of age with high cognitive skills grew up and maintained this higher cognitive index and reading ability at 69 years of age. Among the older participants, those who performed well as children also scored higher on current tests.

For every unit increase in childhood test scores, the average old-age cognitive test score, cognitive reserve index, and reading ability increased by 0.10, 0.07, and 0.22 points, respectively. However, independent of their results when the participants were 8 years of age, people with a better reading ability and cognitive reserve index showed a slower decline on their test scores.

“It’s heartening to find that building up one’s cognitive reserve may offset the negative influence of low childhood cognition for people who might not have benefited from an enriching childhood and offer stronger mental resilience until later in life,” Cader said in a press release.

Additionally, a college degree impacted the scores. The cognitive reserve index revealed that individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher educational accomplishment scored an average of 1.22 points higher than individuals with no formal education.

In terms of leisurely activities, adults who participated in 6 or more averaged 1.53 points above those with only 4 leisure activities. Further, working a professional or intermediate level job increased a person’s average by 1.5 points compared to those in unskilled or partly skilled jobs.

Additionally, participants who completed the study in old age were more socially developed and more likely to be healthy with good thinking skills, limiting the general population of the study.

“From a public health and societal perspective, there may be broad, long-term benefits in investing in higher education, widening opportunities for leisure activities and providing cognitively challenging activities for people, especially those working in less skilled occupations,” Michal Schnaider Beeri, PhD, of Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, said in the press release.

Reference

Study: Education, job, and social life may help protect brain from cognitive decline. EurekAlert! Aug 3, 2022. Accessed on Aug 4, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/960535