Childhood analysis

Education is essential for cognitive health across the lifespan

Investing time in education during childhood and early adulthood broadens career possibilities and offers higher and higher wages. It also brings certain health and longevity benefits.

A new analysis published in the journal Psychological science in the public interest (PSPI), however, reveals that while further formal education prevents the most obvious signs of age-related cognitive deficits, it does not decrease the rate of cognitive decline associated with aging. Instead, people who have gone further to school achieve, on average, a higher level of cognitive function in early and mid-adulthood, so that the initial effects of cognitive aging are initially. less obvious and the most serious impairments manifest themselves later than they would otherwise have been. .

“The total amount of formal education that people receive is related to their average levels of cognitive functioning in adulthood,” said Elliot M. Tucker-Drob, a researcher at the University of Texas, Austin, and co. author of the article. “However, it is not significantly related to their rates of cognitive decline as they age.”

This finding refutes the long-held assumption that formal education from childhood to early adulthood effectively protects against cognitive aging. Instead, the authors conclude that individuals who have gone further to school tend to decline from a higher peak level of cognitive function. They may therefore experience a longer period of cognitive impairment before dropping below what the authors call a “functional threshold,” the point where cognitive decline becomes so evident that it interferes with daily activities.

“Individuals vary in their rates of cognitive decline associated with aging, but these individual differences are not significantly related to education level,” notes lead author Martin Lövdén, formerly of the Karolinska Institute and the University of Stockholm in Sweden and now Gothenburg University.

For their study, the researchers looked at data from dozens of meta-analyzes and previous cohort studies conducted over the past two decades. The new PSPI report assesses the findings of these earlier studies to better understand how educational attainment affects both levels and changes in cognitive function in aging and dementia.

Although some uncertainties remain after their analysis, the authors note, a larger picture of the relationship between education and cognitive aging emerges quite clearly. Throughout adulthood, cognitive function in individuals with more years of schooling is, on average, higher than cognitive function in those with fewer years of schooling.

This review highlights the importance of formal education for cognitive development during childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. According to the researchers, the education of children has important implications for the well-being of individuals and societies not only during the years of employment, but throughout life, including old age. “This message may be particularly relevant as governments decide if, when and how to reopen schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. Such decisions could have consequences for many decades to come, ”Tucker-Drob said.

The authors conclude that improving the conditions that shape development in the first decades of life has great potential for improving cognitive abilities in early adulthood and reducing public health burdens associated with cognitive aging. and dementia.


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