More Education Could Reduce Risk of Dementia

dementia3Dementia is a general term for a loss of memory or other mental abilities that’s severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease, believed to be caused by a buildup of plaques and tangles in the brain, is the most common type of dementia. Vascular dementia, which occurs after a stroke, is the second most common type of dementia.

A number of recent studies have found steady declines in dementia rates in the United States and Europe—with dementia rates in people over age 65 falling from 11.6 percent in 2000 to 8.8 percent in 2012.

A study funded by the National Institutes of Health suggested that two possible reasons for the decline are better heart health and rising educational levels, both of which are closely related to brain health. Not only are doctors doing a better job controlling high blood pressure and diabetes, but today’s senior citizens are better educated than even half a generation ago.

There are a number of reasons why higher education may lower the risk of dementia. One is the “cognitive reserve hypothesis” which proposes that education changes developing brains in a good way, making them more resistant to dementia.

In addition, people with more education:

  • tend to earn more money and have better access to health care
  • are less likely to smoke, more likely to exercise and less likely to be overweight
  • may live in safer neighborhoods and have less stress
  • may have more intellectually stimulating jobs and hobbies that help exercise their brains
  • can better compensate for memory problems as they age, finding ways to work around their impairments

The research is welcome news and suggests that there are lifestyle factors we can implement to stave off dementia, which currently affects an estimated five million Americans. Dementia remains the most expensive disease in America. It costs more to care for dementia patients (up to $215 billion in 2010) than heart disease and cancer.

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