School performance and loneliness both associated with risk of dementia


School-care industry newsHigher school performance and job complexity are both associated with a lower risk of dementia, according to two independent studies presented today at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Washington.

The first study followed 7,574 individuals aged 65 and over in the Uppsala Birth Cohort Study (Sweden) for more than 20 years and in that time 950 people developed dementia. Dementia rates were 21% higher in those whose school grades were in the bottom fifth of the population and 23% lower among those with complex occupations involving data and numbers.

In the second study, 440 people aged 75 or over in the Kungsholmen project (Sweden) were followed for 9 years. Those in the bottom fifth for school grades were found to have a 50% increase in the risk of developing dementia over the course of the study. Participants who reported complex jobs involving working with people had 60% lower risk of dementia, but this was only true in women.

Dr Clare Walton, Research Manager at Alzheimer’s Society, said:

‘Dementia is caused by diseases that damage the brain, but how the extent of damage relates to the severity of symptoms can vary greatly between individuals. These studies add to a growing body of evidence which shows the number of years of education we receive, and the complexity of our jobs, may help our brains by building up a ‘cognitive reserve’ to help us withstand this damage.

‘While more research is needed to determine why this happens, we believe that more years in education or more challenging occupations can increase the number of connections between brain cells. The more existing connections a person has, the more they could potentially afford to lose before the function of their brain is compromised by dementia.  

‘However, people who haven’t had a long education shouldn’t be unduly worried by this study. Research shows there are plenty of positive things you can start doing now to keep your brain healthy into older age, including taking regular exercise, stopping smoking, eating a balanced diet and keeping high blood pressure under control.

Loneliness could accelerate cognitive decline in later life, study finds

Loneliness could be associated with an increased rate of cognitive decline in older adults, according to findings presented today (Monday July 20th 2015) at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Washington.

More than 8,300 adults aged 65 and older participating in the US Health and Retirement Study had assessments conducted every two years from 1998 to 2010. Researchers reported that the loneliest people in the study experienced accelerated cognitive decline, approximately 20% faster, than people who were not lonely, regardless of demographic factors, health conditions and depression.

Dr Clare Walton, Research Manager at Alzheimer’s Society, said:

‘Our research has previously shown that people with dementia are more likely to experience loneliness, but it is not clear whether loneliness is a risk factor for dementia or a consequence of having the condition.

‘This new study has found that people who report being lonely have a faster rate of cognitive decline than those who don’t. This hints that loneliness could be a risk factor for dementia, but more research is needed to directly test that theory.

‘To fend off loneliness and social isolation, it is crucial that we all play a part in supporting the most vulnerable people in our society to feel part of the community. Alzheimer’s Society provides over 3,000 community-based services, helping people with dementia and their carers to form new friendships, share experiences and reduce the feeling of isolation and loneliness.’



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