Illiterate people have double the risk of developing dementia, research reveals

Research says that your ability to read and write can help you protect against the development of neurodegenerative disorder Dementia


Your education level and ability to read and write can be a key factor to determine your risk of developing dementia, a study revealed, as illiterate people are twice as likely to develop the memory-robbing disorder.

According to scientists from Columbia University, an examination since 1992 of 983 adults over the age of 65 years in New York City, who had four or fewer years of schooling, shows illiterate participants perform worse on dementia diagnosing tests.

The researchers upon visiting the participants' homes and performing memory, language, and visual or spatial abilities test to make dementia diagnoses based on the standard criteria found those who had never learned to read or write were nearly three times as likely to have dementia than those who could read.

The results published in the journal Neurology suggested those who did not have dementia at the beginning of the study, the illiterate section of the cohort was twice as likely to develop the neurodegenerative disease.

Lead author Jennifer Manly, a neuropsychology professor at Columbia University, said one of the reasons for the brain decline was that those who did not learn to read had "a lower range of cognitive function" than those who were literate. Manly said scientists over the past three decades had studied 6,500 New Yorkers as they aged and found that educational attainment could be tied to better health outcomes.

A major goal of the study was to determine how literacy can or cannot correlate with someone's ability to maintain brain health during their golden years, explained the researcher, adding that there was a need for further research to corroborate her team's findings.

Policymakers can build a public health case for those who quit schooling early to be enrolled into adult literacy courses to help maintain protection against dementia, she continued, adding that policymakers in the US should reckon with the fact that "educational quality shapes later life brain health".

The researcher likened the positive effects that learning to read had on the mind with the positive effects that exercise could have on the body, and said "increasing opportunities for children and adults to obtain literacy" could be protective for brain health later in life.

Another recent study suggested that Americans misinterpreted their risk for developing the disease and tried proven ineffective ways to counter the sixth leading cause of death in the US that currently affects about 5.8 million Americans, estimates the Alzheimer's Association. Research has shown that regular exercise, a good diet, limiting alcohol use, and not smoking decrease the chances of the disease that currently has no cure.

A review in The Lancet Neurology said a decrease in blood pressure was associated with staving off dementia later in life as data from six large observational studies suggested that antihypertensive medicines lowered the risk for Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.