Hitting the books is most frequently associated with young people, but a recent study suggests that older people involved in higher education may have a smaller chance of developing dementia. So it might be a good idea for some senior citizens to visit their local community college.
The American Psychological Association has published a paper in its journal Neuropsychology entitled “Sending Your Grandparents to University Increases Cognitive Reserve: The Tasmanian Healthy Brain Project.” Conducted by Australian scientists, the study looked at 359 individuals between the ages of 50 and 79. All of the individuals enrolled in classes, either full-time or part-time, at the University of Tasmania. Before they began their studies, each individual was given a cognitive assessment test. They were then tested on their cognitive ability annually for three years.
To provide a contrast, the study also looked at 100 individuals in the same age bracket who did NOT take college classes. When the results of the two groups were compared, 56% of those who did not take college classes showed an increase in cognitive capacity, compared with 92% who DID take classes. This indicates that taking college courses may be one way to help fend away the cognitive declines associated with dementia.
Why the change?
Why there was a greater chance of improving cognitive ability via college coursework cannot be determined from the results of the test; however, one plausible theory is that the social interaction with other students and professors could play a part. (Some previous studies have indicated that a high level of social activity can also help impede dementia development.) And while the study looked specifically at college courses, it may be that enrollment in other classes that are not on a college level may provide a similar boost for seniors.
Keeping active — whether physically, mentally, or socially — is generally considered a good way to help maintain cognitive ability and fight the development of dementia.