Occupation, Education and Genes Predicted Mental Clarity

Mental decline came later for well educated people who did not carry particular gene

(RxWiki News) As people age, there are sometimes impacts on memory, communication and other mental faculties. But could choices we make throughout life ultimately delay the onset of those conditions?

A new Mayo Clinic study suggests that level of education and career achievement, as well as mid-life intellectual engagement and genetic risk, may determine the onset of cognitive impairment (decline in memory and thinking abilities).

The researchers found that people with more education and more challenging jobs kept a clear head for longer than people who had less education and less dynamic employment.

"Talk to a neurologist about how to cut risk of later mental decline."

Prashanthi Vemuri, PhD, assistant professor of radiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, led this study.

The researchers wanted to examine the relationship between lifetime intellectual enrichment and decline in mental performance in older patients.

Specifically, the team took a group of 1,995 patients without dementia and assigned them numerical scores based on education/occupation and mid- to late-life mental ability based on self-reporting.

Dr. Vermuri and colleagues also had the group complete intellectual enrichment activities to establish a baseline, which was followed by at least one more examination.

The tests were designed to gauge mental abilities related to language, memory, executive skills, auditory learning and other markers of intellect.

Another factor taken into consideration was the presence of the gene APOE-4, or Apolipoprotein E, which helps move cholesterol to neurons. This gene also is a potential risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, which is marked by dementia and a decrease in mental abilities.

After compiling the scores into a statistical model, the researchers found that baseline measures were lower in men, older participants, people with lower education/occupation scores, people with lower mid- to late-life mental ability and APOE-4 carriers.

The study found that the participants with the best mental ability late in life were those with a higher education/occupation score and those with more mid- to late-life intellectual enrichment.

From there, Dr. Vermuri and team attempted to estimate the number of years of normal mental function a participant had left.

These researchers concluded that the education/occupation score projected a five-year delay in mental ability based on higher education achievements.

The authors also found that APOE-4 carriers might expect 3.2 years of protection from decreases in mental abilities, while non-carriers might look forward to 7.3 years.

This study was published online June 23 in JAMA.

Funding was provided by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Alexander Family Alzheimer’s Disease Research Professorship of the Mayo Foundation.

Dr. Vemuri disclosed funding from the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association but noted the sponsors played no role in the study.

Other co-authors disclosed myriad funding sources and consultancy roles for private companies. 

Review Date: 
June 23, 2014