Are people with low levels of education at greater risk of dementia?

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The purpose of this systematic review was to explore the relationship between education and dementia.

The authors from the University of Southern California searched PubMed and PsycInfo for published studies examining the relationship between education and dementia listed from January 1985 to July 2010. The inclusion criteria were a measure of education and a dementia diagnosis by a standardized diagnostic procedure. Alzheimer disease and Total Dementia were the outcomes. 71 studies met inclusion criteria.

They found that:

  • 51 studies (58%) reported significant effects of lower education on risk for dementia
  • 37 studies (42%) reported no significant relationship
  • A relationship between education and risk for dementia was more consistent in developed regions compared with developing regions
  • Age, sex, race/ethnicity, and geographical region moderated the relationship

The researchers concluded that:

Lower education was associated with a greater risk for dementia in many but not all studies. The level of education associated with risk for dementia varied by study population and more years of education did not uniformly attenuate the risk for dementia. It seemed that a more consistent relationship with dementia occurred when years of education reflected cognitive capacity, suggesting that the effect of education on risk for dementia may be best evaluated within the context of a lifespan developmental model.

Sharp ES, Gatz M. Relationship Between Education and Dementia: An Updated Systematic Review. Alzheimer Dis Assoc Disord. 2011 Jul 11. [Epub ahead of print] [PubMed abstract]

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