A recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience suggests that participating in adult education classes may lower the risk of developing dementia in middle-aged and older adults. The study analyzed data from 282,421 individuals aged 40 to 69 enrolled in the U.K. Biobank between 2006 and 2010. Participants were followed for an average of seven years, and approximately 1.1% of them developed dementia during the study period.
The results showed that those who took part in adult education classes had a 19% lower risk of developing dementia within five years compared to those who did not attend classes. However, the study did not specify the frequency or type of classes that were most effective in reducing dementia risk.
The study also found that participants who engaged in adult education classes demonstrated a greater retention of fluid intelligence, which refers to the ability to recall new information that changes over time. This type of intelligence relies on short-term memory and is distinct from crystallized intelligence, which is information that remains the same over time.
In addition to fluid intelligence, participants' non-verbal reasoning performance benefited from adult education classes. However, their reaction time and visuospatial memory remained the same. These cognitive factors play a crucial role in healthy cognition, and difficulties in word-finding and constructing sentences are early warning signs of dementia.
While the study did not identify the specific types of classes that were most effective, it emphasized the overall benefits of adult education in reducing dementia risk. Dr. Zaldy Tan, the director of the Jona Goldrich Center for Alzheimer's and Memory Disorders at Cedars-Sinai in California, remarked that as individuals age, opportunities for learning new things tend to decrease. Therefore, actively seeking intellectual stimulation and keeping the mind healthy become essential in later life.
Tan highlighted the cognitive stimulation that attending classes provides, including the process of planning, traveling, and interacting with others. In-person classes were found to be preferable for maximizing cognitive benefits. Learning new things forms new connections between brain cells, increasing brain plasticity and adaptability to change.
While the study's findings are promising, the authors note that further randomized controlled trials are needed to establish a direct causative link between adult education classes and dementia prevention. Tan echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the importance of cross-training cognitive abilities through various methods and consulting with healthcare professionals for a comprehensive approach to brain health.
In summary, the study suggests that adult education classes may contribute to a lower risk of dementia in middle-aged and older adults. While the specific types of classes were not identified, the cognitive stimulation and intellectual engagement involved in attending such classes were deemed beneficial. However, further research is required to determine the exact relationship between adult education and dementia prevention.