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Dr Tracey McDonald AM PhD FACN, Professor of Ageing, 2014

Dear colleagues, via an ePublication ahead of print, a systematic review by the University of Southern California has been released on the relationship between education and the development of dementia syndromes. Some of you may find the information useful in teaching discussions. I hope so.

In all, 72 studies (1985-2010) met the inclusion criteria of some measure of education and a dementia diagnosis derived through a standardised diagnostic procedure with participants having Alzheimer’s and/or total dementia as the outcomes. Sharp and Gatz (2014) found that lower education was associated with a greater risk for dementia in many but not in all studies: 51 studies (58%) reported significant effects of lower education on risk for dementia; 37 studies (42%) reported no significant relationship.

The level of education associated with risk for dementia varied by study population. Extra years of education did not uniformly reduce the risk for dementia. A relationship between education and risk for dementia was more consistent in developed regions compared with developing regions. Age, sex, race/ethnicity, and geographical region moderated the relationship between these variables.

Sharp ES, Gatz M. Relationship Between Education and Dementia: An Updated Systematic Review. Alzheimer Dis Assoc Disord. 2011 Jul 11. [Epub ahead of print] (

It appears that a more consistent relationship with dementia occurred when years of education reflected cognitive capacity. In other words, the effect of education on risk for dementia is best evaluated within the context of a lifespan developmental model (such as the Nun's Study - see below).

The Sharp & Gatz review supports many of the ongoing findings of Dr David Snowdon's longitudinal study of the Sisters of Notre Dame in America, 'the Nun's Study', which has contributed significantly to our understanding of development processes in Alzheimer’s dementia syndrome. I enthusiastically recommend the book "Ageing with Grace" based on the many research findings by the team led by David Snowdon. It is a rollicking good read about the study and the various processes of research.

Information can be found at:
for Alzheimers disease (1997)
or for happiness despite disabilities(2001)
or “Aging with Grace’” (the Nuns’ Study) (2001)

David Snowdon, Aging With Grace.The Nun Study and the Science of Old Age: How We Can All Live Longer, Healthier and More Vital Lives, Fourth Estate, London, 2001, 242 pp., hbk £16.99, ISBN 1 84115 291 9.

Last updated 18/11/2019
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