Avoiding Alzheimer’s

A couple of related articles I came over at the weekend which are linked in a way that they both refer to delaying the development of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The BBC reports on a study which shows that longer schooling ‘cuts dementia’. The link is made between the extension of the school leaving age and the prevalence of dementia so that those who left school at 15 fare better than those who left at 14 etc.

Writing in the journal Aging, Neuropsychology and Cognition, the researchers say “The increase in educational levels that we observed is consistent with changes in the mandatory school leaving age in England.”

Other factors including fewer heart attacks, increased prescription of drugs to reduce high blood pressure, fewer people smoking and improvements in early life nutrition are also likely to have had an effect on the cognitive abilities of the 2002 group.

image Sciu3asteveo at Flickr

I am no scientist but I’d figure the latter comments are as relevant if not more than an extra year of schooling.

It is apparent from a lay view anyway, that generally those who have longer experiences of the educational system tend to be able to mask some of the symptoms of dementia for longer perhaps, after all, one of the key questions we ask in conjunction with the MMSE (Mini-Mental State Examination) refers to what age the particular individual left school.

I wonder if it is more about the generally greater awareness of what is and isn’t good for us (i.e. smoking) that leads to, at least a reduction in vascular dementia.

In fact

Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society said: “Whilst we have a lot of really good evidence on healthy lifestyles and the fact that they can decrease risk of dementia, there isn’t enough evidence on education and dementia to draw any conclusions.

“We know conditions such as diabetes and obesity are on the rise and that they increase people’s risk of dementia – unfortunately this may have the opposite effect. “

Meanwhile, the Healthcare Republic reports that a people should be encouraged to eat more oily fish and omega 3 as a study carried out on mice has shown that this supplement has increased their cognitive functioning. I’m trying not to imagine how cognitive functioning in mice is measured because this is a serious research project..

Professor John Harwood, from the University of Cardiff, said research had shown that increasing dietary intake of omega-3 could halve the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

‘We are currently carrying out studies in mice that have been fed a diet enriched with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the active ingredient found in omega-3,’ he said.

‘The mice on the DHA diet did better in cognitive tests compared with mice that were not on the enriched diet. We are working on the hypothesis that this is down to the anti-inflammatory properties of DHA.’

Professor Harwood told GP that patients should be encouraged to consume omega-3, in the form of oily fish, from early age.

‘This is something that patients can do relatively easily and cheaply and should help to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Omega-3 has clear benefits in reducing the risks of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and arthritis, so it cannot do any harm to increase your intake.’

I’m happy to go with that as a conclusion – basically it can’t do any harm and might possibly do some good.

image jem at Flickr

Fish for dinner, I think.

6 thoughts on “Avoiding Alzheimer’s

  1. The former research is one of those correlation = evidence type papers.

    I’m also dubious of the presumption that ‘education’ provides a significantly different learning activity than ‘life’.
    When I left school was when I began to learn; more vicariously yes – but it was learning still.

    And finally – the MMSE only specifies the number of animals named in a minute. This may be taken two ways:
    In weakening the research:
    1. David Attenbrough wasn’t so televised pre-1990 as he was the decade later.
    2. At that time people had to put up with David Bellamy which, until it was pointed out, everyone thought was just another one of the apes.

    But in strengthening it:
    3. There are probably far fewer animals around in 2002 than 1991 so a little extra thinking might be required.

    • I have to say I’m not overly convinced by MMSEs but as a rough guide of thumb they have a use. And that’s a good point about animals. I hadn’t thought about it – but it goes along with much of the thrust of the first study – namely that a lot of things have changed over that period. The education thing just gives a handy headline..

  2. I’m trying not to imagine how cognitive functioning in mice is measured because this is a serious research project.

    ‘Now, Benjie Mouse, repeat after me: antidisestablishmentarianism’…. ;o)

  3. Have you come across the nun study, cb? Here’s a link for a story about it


    I think the trouble with Alzheimer’s and dementia in general, is that there are several things that can cause the same effect and the diagnosis is a negative one; it is made by eliminating other possibles. A positive diagnosis is only possible after death, and that’s not generally done.

    Re longer schooling; my mum makes an absolute joke of this research, although there may be something in it. She spoke three languages, was in I don’t know how many societies for this and that, had six children and worked and somewhere inbetween that, found time to knit Arran jumpers for us all, while regulating the telly with the spare knitting needle (she would change the channel if something unsuitable came on by jabbing the channel buttons.) If my mum had invented the remote control, it would have been a seven foot knitting needle. Strange how things pan out..

  4. I had heard of that study but hadn’t read up much about the details. To be honest, I’m a little cynical of the study re: schooling and am not sure how apparent that was!

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