A recent study at Georgetown University Medical Center found that education appears to protect older adults, especially women, against memory loss.
The team found that children—especially girls—who attend school for longer will have better memory abilities in old age.
This may have implications for memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
The study is published in the journal Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition. The leader of the study is Michael Ullman, Ph.D., a professor in Georgetown’s Department of Neuroscience.
In the study, the team tested declarative memory in 704 older adults (58-98 years of age). Declarative memory refers to our ability to remember events, facts, and words, such as where you put your keys or the name of that new neighbor.
Participants were shown drawings of objects and then were tested several minutes later on their memory of these objects.
The researchers found that their memory performance became progressively worse with aging. However, more years of early-life education countered these losses, especially in women.
In men, the memory gains linked to each year of education were two times larger than the losses experienced during each year of aging. However, in women, the gains were five times larger.
For example, the declarative memory abilities of an 80-year-old woman with a bachelor’s degree would be as good as those of a 60-year-old woman with high school education. So, four extra years of education make up for the memory losses from 20 years of aging.
The team says that since learning new information in declarative memory is easier if it is related to knowledge people already have, more knowledge from more education should result in better memory abilities, even years later.
Evidence suggests that girls often have better declarative memory than boys, so education may lead to greater knowledge gains in girls.
Education may thus particularly benefit memory abilities in women, even years later in old age.
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