This shows an older man.
Takeuchi proposed that a randomized clinical trial be done to prove any protective effect of adult education. Credit: Neuroscience News

Is Adult Education A Brain Shield Against Dementia?

Summary: Researchers unveiled a promising link between adult education and reduced dementia risk. The study analyzed data from the UK Biobank, finding that individuals involved in adult education courses had a 19% decreased chance of developing dementia.

The protective effect wasn’t solely linked to underlying conditions like cardiovascular diseases or mental illness. More rigorous trials are needed to confirm these results.

Key Facts:

  1. Individuals attending adult education classes had a 19% lower risk of developing dementia.
  2. The research analyzed data from 282,421 UK Biobank participants aged between 40 and 69.
  3. Though the study revealed protective effects of adult education on fluid intelligence and nonverbal reasoning, it didn’t show effects on visuospatial memory or reaction time.

Source: Frontiers

How can we best keep our brain fit as we grow older? It’s well known that regular cognitive activity, for example brainteasers, sudokus, or certain video games in middle and old age tends to protect against cognitive decline and dementias like Alzheimer’s.

But many of us regularly engage in adult education classes, for example learning a language or a new skill. Is such adult education likewise associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline and dementia?

Yes, according to researchers from the Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer of Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan who have shown for the first time, in a new study in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

“Here we show that people who take adult education classes have a lower risk of developing dementia five years later,” said Dr Hikaru Takeuchi, the study’s first author. “Adult education is likewise associated with better preservation of nonverbal reasoning with increasing age.”

UK Biobank

Takeuchi and his co-author, Dr Ryuta Kawashima, a professor at the same institute, analyzed data from the UK Biobank, which holds genetic, health, and medical information from approximately half a million British volunteers, of which 282,421 participants were analyzed for this study.

These had been enrolled between 2006 and 2010, when between 40 and 69 years old. On average, they had been followed for seven years by the time of the present study.

Based on their genotype at 133 relevant single-locus polymorphisms (SNPs) in their DNA, participants were given an individual predictive ‘polygenic risk score’ for dementia. Participants self-reported if they took any adult education classes, without specifying the frequency, subject, or academic level.

The authors focused on data from the enrollment visit and third assessment visit,  between 2014 and 2018. At those visits, participants were given a battery of psychological and cognitive tests, for example for fluid intelligence, visuospatial memory, and reaction time.

1.1% of participants in the sample developed dementia over the study’s time window.

Reduced risk of developing dementia

Takeuchi and Kawashima showed that participants who were taking part in adult education at enrollment had 19% lower risk of developing dementia than participants who did not. This held true for both Caucasian people and those of other ethnicities.

Importantly, results were similar when participants with a history of diabetes, hyperlipidemia, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, or mental illness were excluded. This means that the observed lower risk wasn’t exclusively due participants with incipient dementia being prevented from following adult education by symptoms of these known co-morbidities.

The results also showed that participants who took part in adult education classes kept up their fluid intelligence and nonverbal reasoning performance better than peers who did not. However, adult education didn’t affect the preservation of visuospatial memory or reaction time.

Randomized clinical trials necessary

“One possibility is that engaging in intellectual activities has positive results on the nervous system, which in turn may prevent dementia. But ours is an observational longitudinal study, so if a direct causal relationship exists between adult education and a lower risk of dementia, it could be in either direction,” said Kawashima.

Takeuchi proposed that a randomized clinical trial be done to prove any protective effect of adult education.

“This could take the form of a controlled trial where one group of participants is encouraged to participate in an adult education class, while the other is encouraged to participate in a control intervention with equivalent social interaction, but without education,“ said Takeuchi.

About this education and dementia research news

Author: Mischa Dijkstra
Source: Frontiers
Contact: Mischa Dijkstra – Frontiers
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
People taking adult education classes run lower risk of dementia” by Hikaru Takeuchi et al. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience


People taking adult education classes run lower risk of dementia

Introduction: Mid/late-life cognitive activities are associated with a lower rate of subsequent cognitive decline and lower subsequent dementia risk over time.

Methods: In this study, we investigated the association between adult education class participation and subsequent cognitive decline and dementia risk over time after adjusting for baseline cognitive function and genetic risk of dementia, correcting for several potential confounding variables, using a large prospective cohort data of participants from the UK Biobank study followed from 2006 to 2010.

Results: The results revealed that participation in adult education classes at baseline was associated with greater subsequent retention of fluid intelligence score. Cox proportional hazard models revealed that subjects who participated in adult education classes showed a significantly lower risk of incident dementia 5 years after baseline compared with those that did not at baseline.

Discussion: In this study, we show that participation in adult education classes preceded greater retention of subsequent fluid intelligence and a lower risk of developing dementia after 5 years: this association did not change after adjusting for cognitive function at baseline or genetic predisposition to dementia. Accordingly, participation in such classes could reduce the risk of developing dementia.

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