Education level affects risk of Alzheimer's disease.




Arch Neurol

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Senile dementia is the medical term for senility, the gradual loss of mental function that so often occurs with aging. Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of senile dementia, accounts for more than 60 percent of the cognitive function disorders in the aging population. Alzheimer's disease is a progressive condition that results in a slow deterioration of memory, reasoning, and behavior. The loss of intellectual function interferes with daily life, and after a disease course that may last many years, eventually results in death. Death is usually due to factors such as malnutrition, complications of the immune system such as pneumonia or infection, injury, and even choking.1

Alzheimer's is a debilitating disease that causes severe degeneration of brain tissue. Plaque deposits accumulate in the spaces between brain cells. The cells themselves form twisted, spaghetti-like masses called "neurofibrillary tangles." Why these changes happen in the brains of some people but not others remains a matter of speculation. Scientists are unsure as to which of these abnormalities occurs first, the plaque or the tangles. What triggers them in the first place is not known for certain.

In its beginning stages, Alzheimer's can be a difficult disease to spot; the changes in memory and behavior are barely noticeable at first. The disease may worsen within the first several years or take as long as twenty to progress. Late stage Alzheimer's sufferers experience increasing disorientation, impaired judgment, personality changes, difficulty in learning, and a loss of language skills.

A recent study published in the Archives of Neurology, investigated the link between education level and the prevalence of Alzheimer's disease (AD) or dementia. A total of 1,296 people aged 75 years and older and also free from dementia were involved in this study. The vital status of the individuals was recorded for 5 years. Information regarding education was documented at the beginning of the study. The vital status, tracked for five years, showed that at 2.8 years, 147 people were identified with dementia and of those, 109 had Alzheimer's. After the 5 years, 88 of the 109 diagnosed patients had died. When comparing these results with the educational level of the patients, the researchers were able to draw a conclusion that an education level less than 8 years was associated with an increase of dementia and AD, but not a risk in mortality due to the disease. The risk for those with an education level higher than 8 years was 1.7 compared to 2.6 with lower education. Further research in this area is clearly indicated.2


1. Beard CM, et al. Cause of death in Alzheimer's disease. Ann Epidemiol. May1996;6(3):195-200.
2. Qiu C, et al. The Influence of Education on Clinically Diagnosed Dementia Incidence and Mortality Data From the Kungsholmen Project. Arch Neurol. Dec 2001;58:2034-2039.