Researchers have found adult education reduces the risk of fluid intelligence and visuospatial memory by 19 per cent for middle-aged and elderly people within five years.
The findings were published in Frontiers in Ageing Neuroscience by researchers from Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan’s Institute of Development, Ageing, and Cancer.
“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.”
Dr Ryuta Kawashima, a professor at the same institution and Takeuchi’s co-author, examined information from the UK Biobank, which has the genetic, health, and medical details of almost 500,000 British volunteers, of whom 282,421 individuals were examined for this study.
These individuals, who ranged in age from 40 to 69, had registered between 2006 and 2010. By the time of the current study, they had been monitored for an average of seven years.
Participants received an individual predicted “polygenic risk score” for dementia based on their genotype at 133 significant single-locus polymorphisms (SNPs) in their DNA.
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.
Takeuchi and Kawashima’s research revealed that participants who were enrolled in adult education programmes at the time of enrollment had a 19 per cent reduced risk of dementia than those who were not. Both Caucasians and people of other races experienced this.
Importantly, when people with a history of diabetes, hyperlipidemia, cardiovascular illnesses, cancer, or mental illness were eliminated, the results remained the same. This indicates that the observed lower risk was not solely attributable to participants’ inability to continue their adult education because of the symptoms of these well-known co-morbidities.
The findings also demonstrated that participants who participated in adult education classes maintained their fluid intelligence and performed better on tasks requiring nonverbal thinking than their non-participating peers. However, adult education had no impact on the maintenance of visuospatial memory.
“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.
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