College-Educated People Develop Dementia Later in Life, New Study Suggests

People with college educations develop dementia later than those without, according to a new study.

Research sampling over 10,000 adults in the U.S. showed that participants with a college degree or higher had good cognition into their late 80s. Those who didn't complete high school, however, were more likely to develop the conditions in their 70s.

Researchers used the Health and Retirement Study conducted between 2000 and 2010, which included data on cognitive ability.

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Students pose for a group photograph as they take part in their degree congregations in 2009, in Birmingham, England. A new study has shown a higher educational attainment slows the development of dementia. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The participants, who were 75-years-old on average, were categorized into those who did not finish high school, high school graduates, those who attended but didn't complete college, and those who graduated college or pursued still higher academic degrees.

Overall, the average dementia-free lifespan of study participants increased between 2000 and 2010. But for college educated men and women, it rose by 1.51 years and 1.79 years, respectively. In contrast, the increase for those who did not complete high school was only 0.66 and 0.27, for men and women respectively.

"People with more education have lower prevalence of dementia, more years of cognitively healthy life, and fewer years with dementia," wrote the authors of the study published in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences.

"This association between the increase in college attainment and the decline in dementia prevalence is good news for people who have completed some higher education or earned a degree," Eileen M. Crimmins, a University Professor at the University of Southern California Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and lead author of the study, said in a statement. "But what does it mean for people who are less educated? They are more likely to develop dementia, and live longer with it."

"This study adds to previous findings and highlights the importance of taking the number of years of education a person receives into account when designing experiments to study dementia," Dr. Sara Imarisio, the head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, who was not involved in the study, told Newsweek. "The amount of education a person receives may be closely linked to other dementia risk factors, including smoking, diet and heart health, and this study is unable to tease these factors apart."

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe generative diseases linked to a decline in a person's cognitive abilities, such as memory and the performance of everyday tasks. Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, accounting for between 60 to 80 percent of cases.

The latest figures from 2013 show that five million Americans were living with Alzheimer's disease. This number is expected increase threefold by 2050, to 14 million.

Symptoms generally first appear after the age of 60, and include a loss of memory that debilitates a person's life. Changes in mood and personality, as well as misplacing items and being unable to retrace steps to find them, are also signs.