Education may help protect brain even in genetic Alzheimer’s

05 August 2020

Researchers in Canada have found that more years of education is linked with a reduced build-up of the hallmark protein, amyloid, in the brains of people with faulty genes that cause Alzheimer’s. The scientific journal Neurology published the findings today (Wednesday 5 August).

What did the researchers look at?

Researchers looked at a group of volunteers who did not yet have dementia symptoms but did have a faulty gene, which means they will go on to develop early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers also looked at a group of people who had a parent diagnosed with the more common non-inherited form of Alzheimer’s and did not have this faulty gene and recorded the number of years of education each volunteer received.

All study volunteers had two types of brain scans – MRI and PET – to determine the levels of amyloid in the brains.

What did the researchers find?

In those volunteers with the faulty gene but without symptoms, more education was associated with reduced amyloid build-up in the brain.

In those with family history of the more common type, there was also a relationship between fewer years of education and increased amyloid.

Alzheimer’s Research UK’s expert opinion

Dr Sara Imarisio, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“Dementia is caused by physical diseases, the most common being Alzheimer’s. Increasing evidence suggests lifestyle factors within our control can potentially benefit everyone regardless of a person’s genetic risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

“These new findings provide more evidence that education could delay the development of the disease – allowing the brain to resist against disease for longer. In this study, more years of education were associated with less amyloid in the brains of people with a rare genetic form of the condition who will develop dementia. What the study doesn’t tell us, is whether education will then go on to protect against the development of dementia symptoms.

“Education can be affected by other socio-economic factors, so further research should address how these are linked and how policy could help reduce dementia cases in the UK and around the world.

“While we can’t change the genes we inherit, this research shows that our lifestyle can still help to stack the odds in our favour, yet Alzheimer’s Research UK found only 34% of adults think that this is possible – we must change this.”

Read the science

Neurology: Association of education with a burden in preclinical familial and sporadic Alzheimer disease