To what extent do factors such as education and socio-economic position affect our thinking skills and our memory over time? Not as much as one might think, suggests a new study.

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New research shows that cognitive ability at age 8 may indicate a future risk of dementia.

The study aimed to determine the factors that affect a person's cognitive ability, that is, his ability to think, reason and remember, during the course of his or her life. a life.

The researchers hoped that by discovering the effects on people's cognitive abilities, they might perhaps shed light on some factors that cause cognitive decline later in life, including Alzheimer's disease and Alzheimer's disease. other forms of dementia.

Dementia, which affects approximately 5.8 million people in the United States, can result in a decrease in a person's ability to solve problems, remember, talk and think. In its most severe form, dementia has a significant impact on a person's ability to perform daily tasks.

But what if there is a way to understand the factors that can affect cognitive decline? Predicting what may affect cognitive health at a later age could help avoid cognitive impairment.

The results of the study now appear in the review Neurology. The authors attempted to compare the results of thought and memory tests in people aged 8 to 70 years.

The researchers examined 502 people born in the same week in 1946. All of them had passed cognitive tests at age 8 and again at age 69-71.

The researchers behind the new study were looking for factors that can be used to predict the performance of thinking and memory later in life, such as education level and socio-economic status. .

"It's important to find these predictors," says Jonathan M. Schott, author of the study, from University College London in the UK.

"If we can understand what influences a person 's cognitive performance at a later age, we can determine which aspects could be modified by education or lifestyle changes such as l'. exercise, diet or sleep, which could in turn slow down the development of cognitive decline. "

Children who performed very well at age 70

Participants took a number of tests measuring skills such as memory, language, orientation and concentration. In one test, for example, which was similar to the one they had taken in their childhood, they had to examine geometric shapes and spot the missing piece among five options.

The researchers examined sex, childhood abilities, education, and socioeconomic status, which they determined based on the occupation of the participants at 53 years of age.

They found that the ability to think as a child matched the scores they had obtained more than 60 years later. Those who were in the top 25% of children, for example, were likely to stay in the top 25% at age 70.

In addition, women outperformed men in speed and memory tests.

Education has also had an effect. College graduates, for example, scored around 16% higher than those who left school before the age of 16.

High socio-economic status did not have a significant impact on cognitive performance. Those who had been professionals, for example, recalled on average 12 details of a story, while those who had had manual jobs retained an average of 11 items.

Participants also underwent detailed MRI and PET exams to look for beta-amyloid plaques in the brain. These are markers of Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia. It accounts for 60 to 80% of dementia cases.

The researchers found that participants with beta-amyloid plaques scored lower than the tests. For example, during a test of missing pieces, these participants obtained a lower average score of 8%.

They found no link between the presence of plaques and the cognitive abilities of the child, socioeconomic status, education or gender.

"Our study found that the small differences in thinking and memory associated with amyloid plaques in the brain are detectable in older adults, even at an age when those who are destined to develop dementia may still suffer from symptoms for many years. years. "

Jonathan M. Schott

"Continuous monitoring of these people and future studies are needed to determine the best way to use these results to more accurately predict how a person's thinking and memory will change as they age." . "

The study was limited in that all participants were white. For this reason, it is difficult to say whether the results will apply to other populations or not.