University of Tasmania

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The influence of late-life university education on age-related cognitive decline and cognitive reserve : The Tasmanian Healthy Brain Project

posted on 2023-05-27, 12:00 authored by Thow, ME
Background: A strong link between education and cognitive performance suggests that a period of education in later-life could reduce age-related cognitive decline (ARCD) and risk for Alzheimer's disease (AD). The aim of this thesis was to examine the effect of late-life education on cognitive reserve (CR), cognitive functioning; and the potential influence of genetic factors on any relationship. Method: A sample of 459 participants aged 50-79 years (M = 60.24, SD = 6.75) enrolled in the first four years of the THBP, provided salivary samples for genetic analysis and completed comprehensive annual cognitive assessments. Within this sample, an intervention group (n = 359) who undertook a minimum of 12 months part-time university level education were compared with a control reference group (n = 100). Results: Growth Mixture Modelling (GMM) revealed that while 92.5% of the intervention group displayed an increase in CR, only 55.6% of the control group displayed an increase. Further, the intervention group displayed a significant increase in language processing capacity but no significant change in episodic memory, working memory or executive function. There was no influence of genetic factors (APOE ˜í¬µ4 or BDNF Val66Met) on cognitive function over time or on intervention response. Conclusions: Attending university improved CR and triggered a commensurate improvement in crystallised cognitive function (language processing capacity) but not fluid cognitive functions (episodic memory, working memory or executive function). These results indicate that encouraging mental activity in later-life may be a viable means to reduce ARCD and potentially delay the onset of AD.


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Copyright 2015 the author Chapter 2 appears to be the equivalent of the peer reviewed version of the following article: Lenehan, M. E., Summers, M. J., Saunders, N. L., Summers, J. J. and Vickers, J. C., 2015. Relationship between education and age-related cognitive decline: a review of recent research, Psychogeriatrics, 15(2), 154‚Äö-162, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving. Chapter 2 appears to be the equivalent of a post-print version of an article published as: Lenehan, M. E., Summers, M. J., Saunders, N. L., Summers, J. J., Ward, D.D., Ritchie, K., Vickers, J. C., 2015. Sending your grandparents to university increases cognitive reserve: the Tasmanian Healthy Brain Project, Neuropsychology, 30(5), 525-531. This chapter may not exactly replicate the final version published in the APA journal. It is not the copy of record.

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