Lifelong learning could protect against Alzheimer’s

A recent study found that social activities like gardening or a college degree could improve cognition as we age, potentially preventing Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers analyzed genetic and life-course factors that contribute to a “cognitive reserve” that might prevent Alzheimer’s, published in the journal American Academy of Neurology.

Factors such as early childhood education, a combination of leisure activities, work and literacy can positively influence this reserve. Therefore, lifelong learning can be one of the best ways to protect the brain from cognitive decline.

“These results are exciting because they suggest that cognitive abilities are subject to factors throughout our lives and participating in an intellectually, socially and physically active lifestyle can help stave off cognitive decline and dementia,” said Dorina Cadar, PhD, Brighton and Sussex Medical School in the UK and author of the study, in a press release.

In the study, 1,184 participants born in 1946 completed a cognitive test between the ages of 8 and 69. At the age of 53, the researchers tested the participants’ reading ability to measure lifelong learning.

Researchers also used a cognitive reserve index to quantify a participant’s cognitive gains through education, leisure activities, and employment. The authors also examined the association between education and cognition at age 26, and then assessed the cognitive impact of leisure activities at age 43. Finally, they examined the role of the profession in the 53-year-old participants.

The average score among the 69-year-old participants on the cognitive test was 92, with a maximum score of 100 and the lowest score of 53.

Participants aged 8 years with high cognitive ability grew up and maintained this higher cognitive index and reading ability at age 69. Among the older participants, those who performed well as children also performed better on current tests.

For every one-unit increase in children’s test scores, the mean cognitive age test score, cognitive reserve index, and reading ability increased by 0.10, 0.07, and 0.22 points, respectively. Regardless of their scores at age 8, however, individuals with better reading ability and a better cognitive reserve index showed a slower decline in their test scores.

“It is encouraging to find that building one’s cognitive reserve can offset the negative impact of low childhood cognition on people who may not have benefited from an enriching childhood, and provide greater mental resilience later in life,” Cader said in a press release.

A college degree also affected the score. The cognitive reserve index found that those with a bachelor’s degree or higher score on average 1.22 points better than those with no formal education.

For recreational activities, adults who participated in 6 or more activities scored an average of 1.53 points higher than those with only 4 recreational activities. In addition, having a professional or mid-level job raised a person’s average by 1.5 points compared to a person in an unskilled or semi-skilled job.

In addition, participants who completed the study at old age were more socially developed and were more likely to be healthy and have good thinking skills, which limited the general study population.

“From a public health and societal perspective, investing in higher education, expanding opportunities for leisure pursuits, and providing people with cognitively challenging activities, especially those working in lower-skilled occupations, can have broad, long-term benefits,” he said Michal Schnaider Beeri, PhD of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York said in the press release.


Study: Education, work and social life may help protect the brain from cognitive decline. EurekAlert! August 3, 2022. Accessed August 4, 2022.

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