The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease will increase 40 percent in the next 12 years, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. That’s a pretty scary statistic, especially for Baby Boomers looking forward to retirement. Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death, and one in three seniors die with either Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
While scientists still do not know exactly what causes dementia, it does not have to be an inevitable part of aging. Research shows that staying mentally alert through ongoing education is an effective way to reduce chances of dementia.
“Dementia” is an umbrella term for a variety of diseases and conditions that develop when nerve cells in the brain die or cease to correctly function. Dementia is more than simple “forgetfulness”. Symptoms of dementia include a decline in both memory and cognitive abilities, such as the ability to speak coherently and understand written language, the ability to coordinate motor activities, or the ability to think abstractly.
Dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, affects people in different ways. Early symptoms include the difficulty to remember new information; the first neurons to typically die or malfunction are those located in the region of the brain responsible for forming new memories. This difficulty may soon be accompanied by the inability to plan or solve problems, confusion with time or place, and trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.
Education May Reduce Chances of Dementia Damage
The prospect of “losing one’s mind” is certainly terrifying. Research suggests that formal education may help protect people from dementia. Continuing education may also strengthen neuron connections. For example, one study found that people with more years of formal education experience relatively less mental decline than individuals with fewer years of schooling, regardless of the number of plaque deposits found on the brain. Researchers hypothesized that formal education causes the brain to develop a robust nerve network, which can compensate for cellular damage caused by dementia.
While mentally stimulating games, puzzles and memory training can help keep the brain sharp, formal education provides the greatest dementia-prevention benefits. Following retirement, Baby Boomers may benefit from taking continuing education classes online or at a local community college. Pursuing formal education lowers the incidence of mental acuity decline, even when nerve damage has already occurred.
Reduce Your Risk
Studies show that dementia rates are lowest in individuals who remain mentally and physically active as long as possible:
Enroll in continuing education classes: With continuing education classes, you can take one or two classes each “semester” to help sharpen your creative thinking and logical reasoning skills. For a full list of accredited online schools and tools for customizing online education, visit College Online, which connects users with the 100+ online schools. If attending classes online isn’t right for you, find a local community college or learning center to discover what classes they offer. Whether you connect online or in-person, find classes that have peaked your interest previously, or try something new altogether!
Learn a new language: Speaking two languages reduces the risk for dementia, according to a new study published in the American Academy of Neurology. Learn a new language at home with an all-in-one language kits such as Rosetta Stone, which also offer online courses.
Strengthen the mind-body connection: One way to keep “learning” is by cultivating a new skill. Challenge the mind and body with tai chi, yoga, or another exercise that also keeps the mind sharp.
About the Author
Kevin Strauss – Kevin is a retired nurse who writes about the health care industry when he’s not busy with his five grandkids.