Leaving education early could raise your risk of dementia

Leaving education early could raise your risk of dementia

Phil Thompson discusses his fears of dementia

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Many of us link dementia with getting older. The term refers to a group of symptoms associated with the continuous decline of the brain. Although you are more likely to develop the condition the older you are, there are lifestyle factors in your early life that can have an impact.

Dementia prevents the brain cells – or neurons – from functioning properly, which affects memory, thoughts and speech.

The most common types of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia and Lewy body dementia.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, one risk factor of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia is a lowered cognitive reserve.

The charity explains: “‘Cognitive reserve’ is a person’s ability to cope with disease in their brain. It is built up by keeping the brain active over a person’s lifetime.

“The more cognitive reserve a person has, the longer it takes for any diseases in their brain to cause problems with everyday tasks.

“This means people with a larger cognitive reserve can delay the start of dementia symptoms for a longer period of time.

“People with a smaller cognitive reserve are at a higher risk of getting dementia in their lifetime.”

One “important” factor that can lead to a smaller cognitive reserve is leaving education early.

“A person who left school at an early age is more likely to have a smaller cognitive reserve than a person who stayed in full-time education for longer or who continued learning throughout their life,” the organisation says.

It also lists a less “complex” job and “social isolation” as causes of lower cognitive reserve.

The Alzheimer’s Society says: “A person who has not used a range of mental skills during their lifetime of work – for example, memory, reasoning, problem-solving, communication and organisational skills – is more likely to have a smaller cognitive reserve.

“A person who has not interacted much with other people during their life may also have a smaller cognitive reserve.”

It adds: “Whilst a lot of a person’s cognitive reserve is built up during their childhood and early adulthood, there are many things a person can do to increase their cognitive reserve later in life, such as staying mentally and socially active.”

Hobbies the society recommends trying to keep your mind active include:

  • Reading
  • Board games
  • Crossword puzzles
  • Online games or apps
  • Painting
  • Playing an instrument
  • Knitting
  • Writing.

Other factors that are likely to raise your risk of dementia are:

  • Age
  • Genes
  • Gender – it is more common in women than men
  • Ethnicity – Black African, Black Caribbean and South Asian people are more at risk
  • Living in a deprived area
  • Lifestyle factors such as smoking and drinking alcohol.

The charity says: “Some risk factors for dementia can’t be avoided – for example ageing and genes.

“However there are lots of risk factors that can be avoided, or at least reduced – for example smoking.

“Around four in every 10 cases of dementia may be prevented by avoiding some of these risk factors.”

Common symptoms of dementia include:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks
  • Struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word
  • Being confused about time and place
  • Mood changes.

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