Memory loss linked back to early life education

Education appears to protect older adults, especially women, against memory loss.

older woman holding her head seemingly suffering memory loss

The results of a new Georgetown University study suggest that children – especially girls – who attend school for longer will have better memory abilities in old age. This may have implications for memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

The study tested declarative memory in 704 older adults (5898 years of age). Declarative memory refers to our ability to remember events, facts and words, such as where you put your keys or the name of that new neighbour.

Participants were shown drawings of objects, and then were tested several minutes later on their memory of these objects.

The investigators found that their memory performance became progressively worse with age. However, more years of early life education countered these losses, especially in women.

In men, the memory gains associated with each year of education were two times larger than the losses experienced during each year of ageing. However, in women, the gains were five times larger.

For example, the declarative memory abilities of an 80-year-old woman with a bachelor’s degree would be as good as those of a 60-year-old woman with a high school education. So, four extra years of education make up for the memory losses from 20 years of ageing.

Professor Michael Ulman of Georgetown University explained that the results showed how learning begets learning.

“Evidence suggests that girls often have better declarative memory than boys, so education may lead to greater knowledge gains in girls,” says Prof. Ullman.

“Education may thus particularly benefit memory abilities in women, even years later in old age.

“Education has also been found to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease,” Prof. Ullman says. “We believe that our findings may shed light on why this occurs.”

The study’s lead author, Dr Jana Reifegerste, explained that learning new information is easier if it is related to knowledge we already have, which may explain why having more knowledge from a better education could result in having better memory abilities.

“These findings may be important, especially considering the rapidly ageing population globally,” Dr Reifegerste says.

“The results argue for further efforts to increase access to education.” 

At what age did you leave school? How do your rate your memory? Do you think the two are related?

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    COMMENTS

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    Fast4wd
    10th Jun 2020
    11:39am
    those who do not have a great memory to start with, will probably not go onto further study, thus giving them a disadvantage to start with and of course will show lower memory abilities later, compared to those with a higher education.
    Fast4wd
    10th Jun 2020
    11:39am
    those who do not have a great memory to start with, will probably not go onto further study, thus giving them a disadvantage to start with and of course will show lower memory abilities later, compared to those with a higher education.
    BillW41
    10th Jun 2020
    1:49pm
    I left school at 17 and continued with an industry specific diploma over four succeeding years. At 79 my memory is excellent, not only for past events but also for remembering driver's licence, health fund, auto club, even my '50s cadet service, etc., numbers. My paternal grandmother was a mathematics teacher and may have had something to do with it.
    In recent years I've written (and published) four books and numerous magazine articles. Trick is to keep the mind active and inquisitive.
    jan
    10th Jun 2020
    2:35pm
    I left school at 16, then tafe till 18yrs Night school aswell. Never had a good memory, only remember things what are important to me. Visa card numbers, pass words, account numbers. I don't think memory is associated with level of education. All the women in my family developed dementia. They were well educated. I guess I have no chance avoiding dementia. Good on you Bill. My family were great at maths. So glad I was good at maths, settled comfortably. I worked out years ago the bank was charging me an extra 5 cents a week on my mortgage. Told bank manger and later banks were questioned. Can not spell thou. Two differant sides of the brain,maths and English. You have to enjoy a subject to remember it. Use or loose it.?
    Robyn
    10th Jun 2020
    4:24pm
    I have always loved studying. I studied and qualified as a teacher (admittedly only 2 years back then). As well as career teaching I decided to undertake a bachelor of arts degree in my 30s and 40s, and learnt so much through that. Now retired, I highly recommend University of the 3rd age. Volunteers run various courses. A reasonable joining fee allows you to choose as many courses as you like.
    Rosret
    10th Jun 2020
    7:54pm
    So those who are less intelligent at 16 are still less intelligent at 80.
    I suppose someone is going to get a PhD for this. They sure won't have the same stats when they get to 80. :)
    Fast4wd
    10th Jun 2020
    8:03pm
    My father had an atrocious memory, little schooling, but ran a successful business with my mother.
    We always thought he would end up with Dementia, but lived to 95 , completely with it, until the end, while my mother who had a great memory, developed Dementia.
    Research needs to establish the level of their subjects memories before university.
    Education will assist somewhat in people living healthy lives, which in turn helps the brain!
    Fast4wd
    10th Jun 2020
    8:03pm
    My father had an atrocious memory, little schooling, but ran a successful business with my mother.
    We always thought he would end up with Dementia, but lived to 95 , completely with it, until the end, while my mother who had a great memory, developed Dementia.
    Research needs to establish the level of their subjects memories before university.
    Education will assist somewhat in people living healthy lives, which in turn helps the brain!


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