Differences in early-life education linked to dementia risk

30 July 2020

Research presented at the 2020 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference suggests that higher quality early-life education is linked to better language and memory performance, and lower risk of dementia.

The researchers in the US followed a diverse group of over 2,400 people for up to 21 years. They found that a higher quality of education was linked to a lower dementia risk in non-Hispanic White (NHW) women, and black men and women. This was explained in part by participants with a higher quality of education often having more years in school.

Differences in early-life education linked to dementia risk, Alzheimer's Research UKDr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“These findings add to our growing understanding of early-life risk factors for dementia. While it’s difficult to measure the extent to which individual lifestyle factors contribute to our overall dementia risk, this study supports the idea that the education we get early in life can affect our risk of developing the condition.

“While the study didn’t explore the reasons for this link, research suggests that education could increase our cognitive reserve, a type of resilience that allows people to function for longer before showing dementia symptoms.

“Researchers have previously found a link between the length of time spent in early-life education and dementia risk. Some of the findings from this study can be explained by volunteers with a higher quality of education often spending more time in school.  This research also only measures education quality on a state-level, rather than homing in on individual schools. Further research is needed to understand if there is a link between education quality and dementia risk.

“We must continue to explore all potential avenues to reduce the number of dementia cases, and this study helps show the importance of tackling inequality and implementing new government policies aimed at helping people reduce their risk of the condition.

“There are lifestyle factors we can change to reduce our risk of dementia and boost our cognitive health. The best evidence indicates that staying both physically and mentally active, not smoking, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, only drinking within recommended guidelines and eating a balanced diet are all linked to better brain health as we age.”