According to JAMA Internal Medicine, Alzheimer’s together with a wide range of other mental health issues among the elderly are losing ground thanks to education. Researchers found some compelling evidence to support the claim that a steady increase in education levels helps to prevent dementia and many other related forms of mental health affections.
The study focused mainly on data gathered in two phases. One sample was put together back in 2000 and another one has been completed more recently, in 2012. More than 10,000 Americans, at least 65 years of age offered their help in this study. After closely analyzing the data, scientists came to an astonishing conclusion. In 2012, 8.8 percent of the Americans from the second snapshot suffered from dementia or other forms of mental health issues. As a result, the study registers a significant drop, as opposed to the first snapshot where 11.6 percent of Americans suffered from dementia or Alzheimer’s.
In short, if the numbers stayed exactly the same as in 2000, well over a million people would have suffered from mental health issues by now. This statement comes from John Haaga, head of the Division of Behavioral and Social Research at the National Institute of Aging. He also founded the study.
The study also found that a steady increase in education levels is closely linked to the substantial drop of diseased individuals. Hence, back in 2000, the average amount of education a single individual could benefit from was 11.8 years, just a little under the 12 years necessary to graduate from high school. However, in 2012, the average amount of education spiked to 12.7 years, summing up to graduating from high school and a little bit of college.
However, even if it gets clearer by the day that education saves people from mental health issues, researchers don’t have a firm grasp on the situation yet. However, they do have some theories as to why education is so closely related to mental health.
“One is that education might actually change the brain itself”, says the lead author of the study, Dr. Kenneth Langa of the University of Michigan.
Nevertheless, even if education can create new connections in different areas of the brain, ultimately changing its structure, Dr. Langa does not dismiss the importance of medicines. However, while the risk of dementia and other mental health conditions is declining thanks to education, the number of cases is expected to rise again in the future. This is because, by 2050, the number of people 65 and over will double.
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