Learning begets learning: Here's how early life education improves memory in women...

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Home / Sex and Relationship / Learning begets learning: Here’s how early life education improves memory in women in old age

Early life education, especially for women, holds an essential role in their old age, as it helps them protect against memory loss, a recent study suggests.

The results suggest that children, especially girls who attend school for longer, will have better memory abilities in old age. This may have implications for memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

The study was conducted by investigators at Georgetown University Medical Center and was published in the journal Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition.

The study tested declarative memory in 704 older adults (58-98 years of age). Declarative memory refers to our ability to remember events, facts, and words, such as where you put your keys or the name of that new neighbour.

Participants were shown drawings of objects and then were tested several minutes later on their memory of these objects.

The investigators found that their memory performance became progressively worse with ageing. However, more years of early-life education countered these losses, especially in women.

In men, the memory gains associated with each year of education were two times larger than the losses experienced during each year of ageing. However, in women, the gains were five times larger.

For example, the declarative memory abilities of an 80-year-old woman with a bachelor’s degree would be as good as those of a 60-year-old woman with high school education. So, four extra years of education make up for the memory losses from 20 years of ageing.

“Simply said, learning begets learning,” said the study’s senior investigator, Michael Ullman, PhD, a professor in Georgetown’s Department of Neuroscience and Director of the Brain and Language Lab.

Ullman’s research on the relationship between language, memory, and the brain has been a cornerstone in the fields of language and cognitive neuroscience.

“Since learning new information in declarative memory is easier if it is related to the knowledge we already have, more knowledge from more education should result in better memory abilities, even years later,” added the study’s lead author, Jana Reifegerste, PhD, a member of the scientific staff at the University of Potsdam, Germany, who worked on this study as a postdoctoral researcher in Ullman’s lab.

“Evidence suggests that girls often have better declarative memory than boys, so education may lead to greater knowledge gains in girls. Education may thus particularly benefit memory abilities in women, even years later in old age,” said Ullman.

The study tested individuals in a non-Western (Taiwanese) population. Participants varied in the number of years of education, from none at all to graduate studies. Future research is needed to test whether the findings generalise to other populations, Ullman says.

“These findings may be important, especially considering the rapidly ageing population globally. The results argue for further efforts to increase access to education,” said Reifegerste.

Ullman added: “Education has also been found to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. We believe that our findings may shed light on why this occurs.”

(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.)

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