People who don't finish high school are at a higher risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease compared to people with more education, regardless of lifestyle choices and characteristics such as income, occupation, physical activity and smoking, according to a study published in the October 2, 2007, issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
The study out of Finland followed 1,388 participants through middle-age and late life for an average of 21 years. The participants were divided into three levels: five or less years of education (low), six to eight years (medium) and nine or more years of education (high), the Finnish equivalent of elementary, middle and high school levels.
The study showed that compared with people with a low education level, those with a medium education level had a 40-percent lower risk of developing dementia and those with a high education level had an 80-percent lower risk.
"Generally speaking, people with low education levels seem to lead unhealthier lifestyles, which could suggest the two work concurrently to contribute to dementia or Alzheimer's disease, but our results showed a person's education predicted dementia on its own," said study author Tiia Ngandu, MD, PhD, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, and University of Kuopio, Finland.
"It may be that highly educated people have a greater cognitive reserve, which is the brain's ability to maintain function in spite of damage, thus making it easier to postpone the negative effects of dementia. Additionally, unhealthy lifestyles may independently contribute to the depletion of this reserve."
This study was supported by the Alzheimer's Association, the Aging Program of the Academy of Finland and Kuopio University Hospital in Finland.
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