Go Ad-Free
logoThe People's Perspective on Medicine

Adult Education Courses Help Seniors Reduce their Risk of Dementia

When middle-aged people participate in adult education courses, they maintain many aspects of intelligence and reduce the risk of dementia.

There is a popular saying “Use it or lose it!” Does it apply to your brain? A new study of approximately 280,000 volunteers in the UK Biobank suggests that it does. People who participate frequently in adult education courses apparently reduce their risk of dementia (Frontiers of Aging Neuroscience, Aug. 23, 2023).

How Do Adult Education Courses Help?

The people in the study signed up with the UK Biobank between 2006 and 2010, when they were at least 40 but not older than 69. They completed a number of cognitive tests at the start and during the seven years of follow-up. In addition, when the study began, they filled out a comprehensive questionnaire that asked about their participation in adult education courses. Previous studies have shown that people who use their leisure time for intellectual activities are less susceptible to dementia.

Besides the baseline data on demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, volunteers provided blood samples that were analyzed for gene variants that may contribute to dementia. These included the APOE variants so important for Alzheimer disease along with more than a hundred others.

Who Developed Dementia?

During the five years of the study, about 1 percent of the volunteers developed dementia. Those who had participated in adult education courses were 19 percent less likely to be among them than those who had not. This held up well even when the investigators adjusted for genetic predisposition to dementia.

What is more, participants maintained their fluid intelligence and nonverbal reasoning better, too. On the other hand, classes didn’t seem to affect visuospatial memory or reaction time. Perhaps the most popular classes don’t emphasize the use of visuospatial memory.

The authors conclude,

“In conclusion, the present study showed that participation in adult education classes was associated with higher retention of subsequent fluid intelligence and a lower risk of developing dementia ≥ 5 years. This association did not change after adjusting for cognitive function at baseline or genetic predisposition to dementia.”

They point out that we should not infer causality from this observational study. However, attending adult education courses seems like a pleasant way to reduce the risk of dementia. Other approaches include staying physically active as well as following a diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruits and whole grains rather than processed foods.

Rate this article
4.3- 38 ratings
About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
Tired of the ads on our website?

Now you can browse our website completely ad-free for just $5 / month. Stay up to date on breaking health news and support our work without the distraction of advertisements.

Browse our website ad-free
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.