Black adults who have not finished high school are at much greater risk of dementia than other groups.

Paola Scommegna and  Mark Mather of the Population Reference Bureau, discuss assorted findings from Mark D. Hayward (Texas), Mateo P. Farina (USC), Vicki Freedman (Michigan), Kenneth M. Langa (Michigan), Yi Chen, Tyson H. Brown (Duke), and Liana J. Richardson (N Carolina), that disparities related to education, race, and gender compound health disadvantages at older ages. Health and Retirement Study (HRS) data was key to this research.

“Expanded educational opportunities during the early part of the 20th century are related to recent declines in dementia prevalence among both older non-Hispanic Black and non-Hispanic white adults, Mark D. Hayward and colleagues show. Their review of Health and Retirement Study (HRS) data from 2000 to 2014 documents significant declines in dementia prevalence for both older non-Hispanic Black and non-Hispanic white adults. Non-Hispanic Black adults ages 65 to 74 experienced the steepest decline. Analysis demonstrates that higher levels of educational attainment are related to the recent declines in dementia prevalence.

Findings by Hayward and colleagues echo numerous studies that link more schooling with a lower risk of dementia. Researchers theorize that education may directly affect brain development by creating a cognitive reserve (stronger connections among brain cells) that older adults can draw on if their memory or reasoning ability begins to decline with dementia. They also suspect that people with more education may be better able to compensate or adapt in the face of disrupted mental functions. In addition, education brings multiple advantages: people with more education tend to have healthier lifestyles, higher incomes, better health care, and more social opportunities—all associated with better brain health.”

Read the full text: Disparities Related to Education, Race, and Gender Compound Health Disadvantages at Older Ages.

This article is an excerpt from issue 41 of Today’s Research on Aging.