Jan 4, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

A new study from Cambridge University suggests that education may hinder the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Currently, about 47 million Americans show some evidence of susceptibility to the disease—experts suggest that this will double by 2060.

The study focuses on the buildup of “plaques and tangles” of misshapen proteins in brain cells, which lead to their gradual death.

While the causes are largely unknown and attempt s to treat it have been disappointing at best, the new research suggests that the amount of education a person has can help stave off its effects.

In an article in Psych Central, Professor Hugh Markus said, “For example, many studies have shown that the more years spent in full-time education, the lower the risk of Alzheimer’s. But it is difficult to unravel whether this is an effect of education improving brain function, or whether it’s the case that people who are more educated tend to come from more wealthy backgrounds and therefore have a reduction in other risk factors that cause Alzheimer’s disease.”

He wanted to figure out which factors contribute specifically. He looked at an individual’s DBA and compared genes associated with environmental risk factors, like smoking, and compared them to those genes also present with Alzheimer’s. If a gene has an association with both, then the risk factor is likely to cause the disease.

What did he find? He found a strong association between the genes that predict higher educational attainment and a low risk of Alzheimer’s.

First author Dr. Susanna Larsson said, “This provides further strong evidence that education is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. It suggests that improving education could have a significant effect on reducing the number of people who suffer from this devastating disease.”

She and the other scientists concluded that for every year of education, the odds of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis later in life drop 11 percent. They think that the complex thinking creates “cognitive reserves” that ward off dementia. 

Your takeaway? Go to graduate school

 

 

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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