In a study from the University of Tasmania, scientists are one step closer to understanding why women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
They examined if the cognitive reserve (education and IQ) slowed down age-related cognitive decline equally in men and women.
Cognitive reserve refers to the ability to buffer the effects of physical changes in the brain so it does not have a direct effect on function.
In the study, the researchers measured cognitive reserve using total years of education and by measuring their IQ, accessing data through the Wicking Center’s Tasmanian Healthy Brain Project (THBP).
The THBP is a long-term cohort study, recruiting healthy Australians aged 50–80 years without cognitive impairment that began about 10 years ago.
The THBP aimed to determine if university education later in life reduced age-related cognitive decline and significantly decreases risk, or delays the onset, of dementia.
Data from 562 participants (383 females and 179 males) was analyzed.
The team showed that cognitive reserve, measured through IQ, moderated the steepness of age-related cognitive decline in men, but not in women.
Men with higher estimated IQ had a less rapid (less steep) age-related cognitive decline than their lower IQ male peers—this is what we expected.
But the team did not see these same protective effects in women —so those with higher cognitive reserve declined in their memory and thinking tests as they got older at the same rate as females with lower cognitive reserve.
The study’s results also showed education did not significantly moderate cognitive trajectories in either men or women.
The team says the findings do not appear to support the hypothesis that historical sex disparities in accessing education contribute to the higher female incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.
They suggest that there are sex-specific effects of cognitive reserve though, with men benefiting more—this highlights that further research studies should assess men and women separately.
If you care about brain health, please read studies about how unhealthy blood pressure increases your dementia risk, and coconut oil could help improve cognitive function in Alzheimer’s.
For more information about brain health, please see recent studies that cranberries could help boost memory, and these antioxidants could help reduce dementia risk.
The study was conducted by Professor Jane Alty et al and published in the journal Neurology.
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