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Taking college classes might help ward off dementia

December 22, 2015
by Nicole Stempak, Associate Editor
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It’s time for seniors to hit the books. Again.

Older adults who took college courses increased their cognitive capacity and might be able reduce their risk for developing dementia, according to new research published online in the journal Neuropsychology.

“The study findings are exciting because they demonstrate that it’s never too late to take action to maximize the cognitive capacity of your brain,” says lead researcher Megan Lenehan, PhD, in a news release.

An Australian study called the Tasmanian Healthy Brain Project recruited 359 participants ages 50-79 who completed at least a year of full-time or part-time study at the University of Tasmania.

Participants, who did not have dementia, completed the same cognitive tests each year during the four-year study. Researchers found:

  • 92 percent of the college-studies group showed a significant increase in cognitive capacity, while the remaining 8 percent generally maintained their cognitive capacity.
  • 56 percent of the control group showed a significant increase in cognitive capacity, while 44 percent had no change.

Cognitive capacity is the ability to use brain networks efficiently in areas such as memory, information processing, decision making and planning.

The participants’ age, gender, feelings of well-being or level of social connectedness weren’t found to affect the findings. The researchers also didn’t find any correlation between age and cognitive capacity scores at any point during the study.

Previous research has shown that college study earlier in life may increase cognitive capacity, and it appears the same may be true for older adults, Lenehan says.

 “It is possible that any mentally stimulating activity later in life may also enhance cognitive capacity, such as other adult-education classes or programs to increase social interaction,” she says.

Read the study here.

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