More School, Steeper Slide to Dementia
Study Links Education Level to Rate of Memory Decline Before Dementia
WebMD News Archive
Oct. 23, 2007 -- New research links a person's years of formal education to
his or her path toward dementia.
The study's key finding: Among elders with dementia, those with higher
levels of education had a delayed, but steeper, decline in memory in the years
leading up to their dementia diagnosis.
"Our study showed that a person with 16 years of formal education would
experience a rate of memory decline that is 50% faster than someone with just
four years [of] education," Charles B. Hall, PhD, says in a news
"This rapid decline may be explained by how people with more education
have a greater cognitive reserve, or the brain's ability to maintain function
in spite of damage," says Hall.
Hall works in New York as an associate professor of epidemiology and
population health at Yeshiva University's Albert Einstein College of
Dementia and Education
Hall's team reviewed data on 117 elders living in New York's Bronx
neighborhood who developed dementia during a 27-year study.
Of the group's 21 high school graduates, seven had a college degree and some
Participants got yearly checkups and took memory tests in which they had to
memorize and immediately recall a list of 12 unrelated words.
The memory tests show that accelerated memory loss began 5.5 years before
dementia diagnosis in typical participants, who had eight years of
Accelerated memory loss started later -- about four years before dementia
diagnosis -- in elders with 16 years of education.
But when memory loss started, it happened faster in highly educated
The study, published in Neurology, doesn't mean that education causes
A mix of genetic and environmental factors can affect dementia risk.
Observational studies such as this one don't prove cause and effect.