Going to College Can Delay Alzheimer’s Disease Onset

Ayesha Azeem ‘23

Figure 1. Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder characterized by loss in memory and thinking skills.

Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible brain disorder that progresses to destroy memory and thinking skills until one fails to complete basic tasks. Alzheimer’s most commonly begins to affect people in their mid-60s, and is currently the third leading cause of death for the elderly in the United States (NIH). A recent study conducted by Stony Brook University researchers revealed that attending college may lead to increased resistance to Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive declines.

Professor Sean Clouston, PhD, led the study, which analyzed a representative cohort of 28,417 United States residents and their levels of education. These individuals and their data were collected through the government-funded Health and Retirement Study, which is based out of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. The researchers reviewed episodic memory results of individuals from ages 50 up to 70 years and looked for trends that were consistent with symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, like an accelerated decline in episodic memory. 

Analysis of the Health and Retirement Study data revealed that education is positively associated with cognition, and that higher levels of education is associated with delayed acceleration of cognitive impairment. These findings support the cognitive reserve theory, which proposes that individual differences in how tasks are performed – in this case, education – can allow people to be more resilient to brain damage, like Alzheimer’s disease. Activities that engage the brain, like learning a new language or earning a PhD in chemistry, can strengthen cognitive reserve, which may help protect the brain from the detrimental effects of Alzheimer’s. However, it is important to note that further research needs to be completed to differentiate between specific dementia types and to determine whether this discovery applies to only Alzheimer’s disease or can be extended to other cognitive disorders as well. 

References:

  1. S. Clouston, et al., Education and cognitive decline: an integrative analysis of global longitudinal studies of cognitive aging. The Journals of Gerontology 75, e151-e160 (2019). doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbz053.
  2. Image retrieved from: https://cdn.pixabay.com/photo/2020/03/01/23/40/memory-4894438_1280.jpg

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