According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. As a result of the country’s aging population, this progressive brain disorder has grown to be the the sixth leading cause of death among all adults and the fifth leading cause for those aged 65 or older. Although there is no cure for this debilitating disease, a new study has found a way to reduce the risk of developing it: education.
A Cambridge University study of over 54,000 people found that every year spent in school reduces the chances of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease later in life by 11%. According to study co-author Dr. Susanna Larsson, from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, “Evidence suggests that education helps improve brain networks and thus could increase [cognitive] reserve.”
People who’ve spent more time in school have a greater resiliency against degenerative brain disorders because they have more neurological connections to fall back on. Those with fewer connections — or less cognitive reserve — are forced to rely on poorer formed connections which can exacerbate the spread of dementia.
Older people who aren’t in the position to go back to school can reduce their Alzheimer’s risk by working longer. A 2013 study found that those who delay retirement are less likely to develop the disease. “For each additional year of work, the risk of getting dementia is reduced by 3.2%,” Carole Dufouil, a scientist at INSERM, the French government’s health research agency, said.
The answer to preserving one’s cognitive function appears to be “use it or lose it.” Those who keep their brains active and continue building connections throughout their lives have a better chance of maintaining their cognitive abilities as they age. It’s life’s big reward for staying busy, being open to change, and living life to its fullest.
Share image via svklimkin/Flickr and University of Minnesota Duluth/Flickr.