Higher Education Correlates to Later Onset of Alzheimer’s

Priyanshi Patel ‘22

Figure 1. Link between education and delayed decline in cognition leading to later onset of Alzheimer’s and related dementias.

Professors including Sean Clauston, Dylan Smith, and many others of the Public Health and Department of Family, Population, and Preventative program at Stony Brook University wanted to examine the association between education and the incidence of accelerated cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) affect 5.4 million people in the United States and are the cause of the fifth most common death. ADRD are age-related conditions detected by rapid decrease in cognition causing impairments to multiple areas of fluid cognition including memory of everyday events. This study hypothesized that many factors, including education effect, delaying incidence of neuropathology. Using the U.S. Health and Retirement Study (HRS), this study examined whether education is independently associated with onset of accelerated cognitive decline. 

The study consisted of a representative cohort of U.S. residents and their education levels consisting of 28,000 individuals from the HRS. Alzheimer’s disease was determined by an accelerated rate of decline in everyday memory, or episodic memory, consistent with symptoms of the disease. Episodic memory is a key measure of cognitive functioning that is sensitive to cognitive aging and ADRD. The researchers examined episodic memory results from the cohort of people aged 50, then every two years for up to 20 years of observation. 

The study defined healthy aging as occurring before the onset of ADRD-related declines in cognition. The study also postulated that education may play a role in predicting delayed onset of accelerated cognitive decline. The researchers concluded that the results are consistent with the cognitive reserve theory, which suggests that activities that challenge the brain improve the brain’s ability to stave off symptoms of Alzheimer’s and related diseases. A future study aims to involve research that differentiates specific dementia types in a large scale population model. 


  1. S. Clauston, et. al., Education and Cognitive Decline: An Integrative Analysis of Global Longitudinal Studies of Cognitive Aging. Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 1-10 (2019). doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbz053
  2. Image Retrieved from:  https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/memories-royalty-free-image/840306610

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