For many people, ageing is usually associated with cognitive decline. This extremely sad truth is especially hurtful in ageing societies, but scientists are finding new ways to improve your possibilities to remain sharper for longer. For example, a new Finnish twin study found that higher education may reduce risk factors for late-life cognition.
Scientists at the University of Helsinki and the University of Turku analysed data of more than 4000 Finnish twins. They looked for cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high body mass index and physical inactivity that are associated with poor cognition later in life. In other words, people with these particular health issues in midlife are more likely to suffer from memory problems later. Scientists wanted to see if education levels play any role in the development of these factors.
Why twins? Well, this kind of design for this study allowed researchers to eliminate the importance of genetic and shared environment effects. Participating twins grew up together, had the same parents (obviously), but education levels could be different. In other words, twin participants helped scientists control variables better and single out education as the main interest and concern.
This study showed that people with higher education had better late-life cognition even if they had similar cardiovascular risk burden as their less-educated twin siblings. Meanwhile when education level was similar cardiovascular risk factors were not associated with late-life cognition. Of course, a healthy lifestyle is still very important, but a higher education background seems to result in better cognition later in life. Scientists don’t quite know why that would be.
Eero Vuoksimaa, lead author of the study, said: “The mechanisms are not yet known, but these results may reflect the effect of cognitive reserve. Higher educational attainment may increase cognitive reserve that helps to tolerate dementia risk factors better”.
People with higher education typically use their minds more. Not only do they need to concentrate their mental capacity towards achieving that level of education, they more usually employ themselves in mentally challenging positions. Science has shown many times that the best way to preserve the sharpness of the mind is using it all the time.
Does that mean that people with a lower degree of education cannot enjoy these benefits? Well, this study didn’t really say that. Education is a diverse concept ant it is possible to educate yourself through hard work, dedication, books, online courses, travel and life in general. It is important to never stop learning.
Source: University of Helsinki