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Study Finds Higher Education Linked to Later Onset Alzheimer’s-Related Decline

Exercising the brain by learning and thinking is known to improve cognition. Now a new study by Stony Brook University researchers reveals that higher education is associated with later onset of Alzheimer’s-related accelerated cognitive declines. Their findings will be published early online in the Journal of Gerontology.

In summarizing the study, lead author Sean Clouston, PhD, an associate professor of family, population, and preventive medicine at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, says, “On average, those who had four years more of education had 2.3 years of longer healthy life expectancy without Alzheimer’s-related symptoms than those with less education.”

The study took a representative cohort of US residents and their levels of education. The cohort consisted of more than 28,000 individuals from the Health and Retirement Study. Alzheimer’s disease was determined by an accelerated rate of decline in episodic memory consistent with symptoms of the disease. The researchers looked at episodic memory results from the cohort starting at age 50 plus then every two years for up to 20 years of observation.

Clouston and colleagues conclude that the results are consistent with cognitive reserve theory, which suggests that activities challenging the brain improve the brain’s ability to stave off symptoms of Alzheimer’s and related diseases.

The authors suggest further study should involve research that seeks to differentiate between specific dementia types in large scale population models.

The research was sponsored by the National Institute of Health’s National Institute of Aging (Grant: NIA R01 AG58595).

Source: Stony Brook University