Adult education courses can expand students’ horizons, provide some social opportunities, and help build skills. A new study finds they may help keep your brain sharp, too.
Research recently published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience investigated the impact of adult education participation on cognitive decline and dementia risk. The topic was of interest to the authors because activities that work the brain are linked with better cognitive health. The findings show that these courses are no different, as they were linked with better fluid intelligence scores, which reflect our ability to reason and solve problems.
The study’s first author, Dr. Hikaru Takeuchi, says, “Here we show that people who take adult education classes have a lower risk of developing dementia five years later. Adult education is likewise associated with better preservation of nonverbal reasoning with increasing age.”
The research involved data from over 280,000 participants in the UK Biobank, a long-running study tracking the health of half a million Britons. Those involved in the current study enrolled between 2006 and 2010, ranging in age from 40 to 69 at the time. They had been followed for an average of seven years when the current study began.
All the participants were given a risk score for dementia based on their genetics. They also shared whether they had taken any adult education courses. The subject, the academic level, and the frequency of the courses were not shared. At their initial visit and their third assessment visit, they underwent psychological and cognitive tests.
Over the study period, 1.1% of the participants developed dementia. The team found that for those who had taken adult education courses, there was a 19% lower risk of developing the disease, compared with those who hadn’t. The numbers were similar for people with possible contributing health factors like cardiovascular disease or diabetes.
In addition to the lower dementia risk, adult education enrollees also demonstrated better fluid intelligence and nonverbal reasoning. Visuospatial memory and reaction time did not appear to be impacted, though.
Why do these courses seem to be beneficial for the brain?
Study co-author Dr. Ryuta Kawashima says, “One possibility is that engaging in intellectual activities has positive results on the nervous system, which in turn may prevent dementia. But ours is an observational longitudinal study, so if a direct causal relationship exists between adult education and a lower risk of dementia, it could be in either direction.”
To try to prove the link, the researchers say a clinical trial with one group taking adult education courses and one group doing another social activity could be conducted.
Research has found that other activities that exercise the brain, like reading and writing for fun, are linked with a lower dementia risk. To learn about other activities that can help, click here.