Many factors can increase your risk of developing dementia, and there are those who believe that having a higher education can help lower your risk for this condition. However, according to an enlightening study, your education before you reach 20 years old is the crucial factor that can help protect you from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The study was published in the journal Neurology and was conducted by researchers from the University of California San Diego.
The researchers said that attending university and having mentally stimulating jobs or hobbies aren’t as effective at lowering your risk. The results of their study also go against previous findings, which imply that keeping the brain challenged as you age can give you cognitive reserve and make your brain more resilient against Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Higher education and dementia risk
The researchers revealed that good early years and education in the teenage years are crucial to maintaining brain health. (Related: Healthy lifestyle proven to help prevent dementia: Four tips that work best.)
They worked with over 1,000 men who served in the U.S. military from 1965 to 1975 for their study. At least 80 percent of those men reported no combat exposure. The researchers then used a standard test called young adult general cognitive ability, an IQ test used in the military, to reassess the brains of the ex-soldiers at age 62.
During the assessment, the researchers also evaluated three things: How intellectually complex the ex-military men’s later careers had been, whether they had gotten further educational qualifications, and whether they had engaged in other intellectually challenging pursuits.
The researchers found that these three factors only accounted for less than one percent of the difference in a participant’s mental ability at age 62. On the other hand, their performance on the IQ test at age 20 accounted for at least 40 percent.
In addition, the researchers found that each participant’s ability at the age of 20 was about ten times more important in seven areas of the IQ test, which included abstract reasoning, speed of mental processing, and verbal fluency. High scores on the IQ test at age 20 were also associated with a greater surface area of the brain at age 62. However, jobs and later intellectual achievements were not.
The researchers said that their findings refute the results of previous studies, which suggest that education boosts cognitive capacity through late adolescence. They believe that the relationship between later-life cognitive function and education reflect reverse causation – that is, those with higher intellectual capacity tend to attain higher education.
This also means that individuals who have several degrees and brain-taxing jobs already had well-developed brains at age 20. This serves as a protective factor against cognitive impairment.
Therefore, improving educational quality and access much earlier in life may be crucial to lowering a person’s risk of cognitive decline and dementia later in life.
How to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
You can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia by having healthy lifestyle habits.
Engaging in regular physical activity can significantly reduce dementia risk. Exercise isn’t just good for your brain, it’s also beneficial for your heart, circulation, weight, and mental health.
Find an activity that suits your current condition and is fun for you. Start slow, then gradually increase the time you spend exercising.
Follow a healthy diet.
Eating nutritious food will help lower your risk of developing dementia and other conditions like cancer, heart disease, obesity, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes.
- Eat at least five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables daily
- Eat a serving of protein, like fatty fish, beans, eggs, or lean meat, at least twice a week
- Limit your intake of salty and sugary foods
Smoking increases your risk of developing dementia, along with other health problems like certain types of cancer, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes. Smoking also affects the circulation of blood throughout your body and harms the blood vessels in your brain, heart, and lungs.
Limit your alcohol intake.
Drinking too much alcohol greatly increases your risk of dementia. To cut down on alcohol, set a limit and track how much you’re drinking. You can also choose low-alcohol or alcohol-free drinks.
Monitor your mental health.
Aside from eating healthily and exercising, you should also keep your mental health in check. If you believe that you are suffering from anxiety or depression, talk to a therapist who can help you deal with your condition.
Lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia by having healthy habits and quitting smoking.
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