Performance in School Linked to Risk of Developing Dementia

Study demonstrates that the correlation between school grades, one's level of formal education and career complexity makes a big difference in the risk for developing dementia
Early School Grades Linked to Dementia


At this year’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC), a press release was given about the results of a study done on “the role of childhood school performance, education and the complexity of a person’s job on the risk of dementia.” At the Aging Research Center and Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet & Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden, Hui-Xin Wang, PhD and her colleagues examined 440 men and women, already involved in “a longitudinal population-based study on aging and dementia” known as “The Kungsholmen Project.” All men and women in the study had good cognitive functioning at its onset.

Researchers followed up with participants nine years later and discovered that 163 of them, about 37 percent, had developed dementia. In order to better understand this development, “the results were cross-referenced with school grades in five elementary school subjects (mathematics, reading, geography, history, and writing) from when the participants were nine or 10 years old. The researchers also had collected information on the participants’ formal education and occupational complexity.”

These early school grades made a big difference in who was at the biggest risk for developing dementia. Regardless of whether they completed more formal education or held a job of higher complexity, those who ranked in the lowest 20 percent of early school grades had more than a 50 percent risk in developing dementia. On the other hand, participants had a 28 percent lower risk of developing dementia if they completed secondary education instead of just elementary education. The final correlation that researchers found between grades and risk of dementia was that “women in the study who had an occupation with high complexity with people (e.g., high demands on negotiating, instructing, and supervising) were at 60 percent lower [of a] risk of developing dementia compared to those who had an occupation with low complexity with people.” As Wang puts it, “These findings suggest that early-life cognitive ability may be an important predictor of dementia in late life.”

What are your thoughts about this recent study? We look forward to your comments below.

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