High School Grades, Complex Jobs Linked to Dementia Risk


Two recently-released studies presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference suggest that those who perform better in high school and hold a more complex job have a decreased risk of dementia.

Additional research found loneliness, low physical activity and high levels of TV watching to be factors relating to a decline in cognitive abilities and a correlation with dementia.

The first study followed 7,574 participants age 65 and older for more than 20 years, finding that 950 of those participants ended up developing dementia.  Of those, dementia rates were found to be 21% higher in individuals with high school grades in the bottom fifth of the population and 23% lower among individuals who held complex jobs involving numbers and data.

Those who showed both good grades in high school and held a complex job showed a reduced risk of dementia by 40%.  Although a complex job reduced that risk by 23%, it did not appear to negate the effects of poor high school grades.

“If you were in a group at higher risk, then it might be difficult to modulate that risk,” says study author Serhiy Dekhytar, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Karolinska Institute. “But it’s not deterministic. We can clearly see that risk can additionally be reduced, just not by as much as if you started with a lower baseline risk.”

Dekhytar went on to say that the information obtained through the study would still be useful for those individuals past the high school and working years despite its focus on that population.  Older people, he says, should still see positive effects if they remain socially active and mentally engaged, writes Alice Park for Time.

“Research shows there are plenty of positive things you can start doing now to keep your brain healthy into older age, including taking regular exercise, stopping smoking, eating a balanced diet and keeping high blood pressure under control,” said Dr Clare Walton, Research Manager at Alzheimer’s Society.

The second study followed 440 individuals age 75 and older for 9 years.  Researchers found a 50% increased risk of developing dementia in those individuals who were in the bottom fifth of their class for school grades, and a reduced risk of dementia by 60% for women who held a complex job that involved working with other people.

‘While more research is needed to determine why this happens, we believe that more years in education or more challenging occupations can increase the number of connections between brain cells. The more existing connections a person has, the more they could potentially afford to lose before the function of their brain is compromised by dementia,” Walton said.