LivingNot knowing how to read can triple your chance...

Not knowing how to read can triple your chance of developing dementia


Could Illiteracy Increase Chances of Dementia? A new study published in the journal Neurology found that older people who could not read or write were two to three times more likely to develop dementia than those who did.

The finding “provides strong evidence for a link between illiteracy and dementia risk,” said Jennifer Manly, a professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City and a leader of the study.


Characteristics of dementia include chronic or persistent memory loss, personality changes, or impaired reasoning. This disorder is more common in older people.

For the study, the researchers focused on men and women who are at least 65 years old and have an average age of 77 years . In total, about 1,000 people. Most were born and raised in rural areas of the Dominican Republic before moving to northern Manhattan, United States. None of the volunteers, including those who could read or write, had been to school for more than four years.

The experts followed the participants in three separate groups for an average of about four years: the first group formed in 1992, the second in 1999, and the third in 2009, totaling 983 people. For each group, medical examinations were performed every 18 to 24 months, as well as tests of memory, language, or visual-spatial skills.


The importance of knowing how to read

Among the illiterate, more than a third (35%) already had dementia when the study began. In comparison, only 18% of the literate participants had dementia at the time. Subsequently, after taking into account crucial factors such as age, income and history of heart disease, the team concluded that illiterates were three times more likely to have developed dementia at the beginning of the research. The authors also found that after four years of follow-up, 48% of the illiterate group eventually developed dementia, but among the literate group, only 27% developed memory and reasoning problems.

The researchers concluded that, all things being equal, and after adjusting for criteria for age, socioeconomic status, and heart disease, illiterate adults nearly tripled their risk of dementia.

“Even if they only have a few years of education, people who learn to read and write can have lifelong advantages over people who never learn these skills,” clarifies the expert.

What is it about reading and writing that seems to protect us against dementia?

The present study is not definitive proof that being illiterate causes an increased risk of dementia. There are extenuating circumstances, such as why a person has never learned to read or write can influence long-term risk of dementia.

“Being able to read and write allows people to participate more often in what we might call ‘cognitively enriching’ activities. In other words, activities that ‘exercise’ the brain, such as reading newspapers and books, helping children and grandchildren with their tasks or getting a job that requires literacy. Learning to read and write allows us to be part of these activities throughout our lives. “

One limitation of the study was that the researchers did not ask how or when literate study participants learned to read and write.

The scientists say the next step would be to investigate whether tackling illiteracy could be a way to reduce the risk of dementia.

The WHO warns that 10 million new cases of dementia appear each year.

The study was sponsored in part by the US National Institutes of Health and the US National Institute on Aging .

Reference: American Academy of Neurology.

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