01.03.2024

Learning a new language may slash your risk of dementia by a fifth

Middle-aged people who take education classes have a 19 per cent lower risk of dementia five years later, according to a new study. It is well known that brainteasers, sudokus or even certain video games can help protect against the likes of Alzheimer’s.

But new research suggests learning a new language or skill could also be beneficial.

Researchers analysed data on 282,000 British volunteers who were between 40 and 69 years old, and followed them for seven years.

Analysis revealed participants who were taking part in adult education classes at the start of the study had a 19 per cent lower risk of developing dementia than those who did not

Analysis revealed participants who were taking part in adult education classes at the start of the study had a 19 per cent lower risk of developing dementia than those who did not

Participants were given an individual risk score for dementia based on their DNA and self-reported if they took any adult education classes.

Throughout the study they were given a battery of psychological and cognitive tests, for example reaction time and memory tests.

Over the course of the study 1.1 per cent developed dementia.

Analysis revealed participants who were taking part in adult education classes at the start of the study had a 19 per cent lower risk of developing dementia than those who did not.

These people kept up their fluid intelligence – the ability to learn, assess and navigate new situations – and nonverbal reasoning, which is the ability to solve problems presented in diagram or picture form, better than those who did not take classes.

Dr Hikaru Takeuchi, the study’s first author from Tohoku University in Japan, said: ‘Here we show that people who take adult education classes have a lower risk of developing dementia five years later.’

His co-author, Dr Ryuta Kawashima, added: ‘One possibility is that engaging in intellectual activities has positive results on the nervous system, which in turn may prevent dementia.’

They called for further trials to prove any protective effect of adult education.

Their findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

WHAT IS DEMENTIA?

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of neurological disorders

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of neurological disorders

A GLOBAL CONCERN

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders (those affecting the brain) which impact memory, thinking and behaviour.

There are many types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.

Some people may have a combination of different types of dementia.

Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience dementia in their own unique way.

Dementia is a global concern but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age.

HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?

The Alzheimer’s Society reports there are more than 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK today. This is projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting between 50 and 75 per cent of those diagnosed.

In the US, it’s estimated there are 5.5 million Alzheimer’s sufferers. A similar percentage rise is expected in the coming years.

As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia.

Rates of diagnosis are improving but many people with dementia are thought to still be undiagnosed.

IS THERE A CURE?

Currently there is no cure for dementia.

But new drugs can slow down its progression and the earlier it is spotted, the more effective treatments can be.

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