Under the Hood

Could Illiteracy Lead To Dementia?

Illiterate senior citizens are more at risk of developing symptoms of dementia, specifically the ones displaying a lower range of cognitive function, a recent research paper published in the journal Neurology last Wednesday revealed.

The study conducted by Department of Neurology, Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, was based in the Washington Heights neighborhood in the northern region of Manhattan, New York City.  

About 983 participants, most of whom migrated from the Dominican Republic, where literacy rates are low, were tested on their cognitive abilities, according to Medical News Today. All of them were above 65 years old with a mean age of 77, with at least four years or less of formal education, which was deduced based on their self-report assessments.

Depending on the answers, 237 illiterate participants were put together in a group, while the remaining 746 literate participants were grouped together. Both groups were tested at an interval of 18 months to 2 years for about a median of 3.49 years, by giving them memory, visuospatial and language tests.  

From the tests, the researchers realized that at the beginning of the study, the illiterate group was three times more likely to suffer from dementia than the literate group. About 35 percent of 237 participants from the group with cognitive difficulties could be diagnosed with dementia at baseline, while 18 percent of the 746 literate participants had dementia too at baseline.

As the study was about to conclude, a total of 48 percent of the illiterate group’s cognitive state had declined to a state of dementia, including the participants previously diagnosed. In contrast, 27 percent or 201 of the 746 literate people were diagnosed with dementia in the short span of time. 

The researchers then made adjustments for overlapping factors such as age and socioeconomic status. In the final analysis, they concluded that people who did not perform well in the cognitive tests and were not diagnosed with dementia at baseline were twice more likely to suffer from the neurodegenerative condition if they could not read and write well. 

"Our study also found that literacy was linked to higher scores on memory and thinking tests overall, not just reading and language scores," Jennifer J. Manly, senior author, said. "These results suggest that reading may help strengthen the brain in many ways that may help prevent or delay the onset of dementia."

"Even if they only have a few years of education, people who learn to read and write may have lifelong advantages over people who never learn these skills," Manly added

dementia Dementia affects around 47 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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