Well, here we are again, looking at education and Alzheimer's disease. I wrote a post here on OurAlzheimers.com early last October, titled More Education Means A Lesser Chance of Getting Alzheimer's, that was in response to a study on education and dementia. Shortly thereafter, I wrote a post titled New Study Highlights Dementia Risks for the Well-Educated in response to another study on education and dementia.
One reader was upset by the first post. I could understand her emotional issues. Her loved one was brilliant, well educated and had devastating Alzheimer's symptoms. I'm not sure the second study made her feel any better.
What we all must understand is that studies are studies. They are about statistics and they generalize. They are necessary, but one study doesn't make a truth. And every one of us can point to exceptions to nearly any study we hear or read about.
Today, the University of Michigan Health System published information in a press release titled "Memory loss and other cognitive impairment becoming less common in older Americans: Study finds Better education, finances and cardiovascular care may be boosting brain health."
This statement begins: "Although it's too soon to sound the death knell for the "senior moment," it appears that memory loss and thinking problems are becoming less common among older Americans."
The study itself is published online in the journal Alzheimer's and Dementia by a team led by two University of Michigan Medical School physicians and their colleagues.
The study cites the fact that today's older people are more likely to be educated, have a "higher economic status" and have had better care for health risks such as heart disease and high cholesterol than earlier generations. The general feeling is that this is good news for today's seniors and that it supports recent theories that brains can be "protected and preserved."
This study does mention, too, that once people who are highly educated do get dementia, they tend to die within two years. Researchers feel this may be a result of the protective effect of better education keeping the symptoms at bay for a longer period of time (this agrees with the study, above, about the dementia risks of the highly educated).
One thing these studies all seem to agree on is that people shouldn't quit learning. Exercising one's mind and caring for one's physical health seem to be key to remaining as healthy as possible, overall. Keeping an active mind and body are not guarantees that dementia will not strike. But keeping our minds active and our bodies as healthy as our genes will allow are somethings we can do that certainly will not cause harm, and doing these things can give us hope that we may remain dementia free, or at least put off the effects for a longer period of time. There will always be exceptions, but why not try?
The study is also realistic in noting that the sheer numbers of elders who are (and will be) living longer ensures that we will be fighting Alzheimer's and other dementia for years to come. Nothing is "licked" yet. However, any good news on this front is welcome to we who are on the leading edge of baby boomers, and to our children.
See Dorian Martin's response to this study.
Published On: February 20, 2008