Image of Mikaela Bloomberg
Mikaela Bloomberg

Long-term changes in education could be the reason for reduced sex differences seen in cognitive aging, according to a new investigation. This trend may eventually lower women’s risk of dementia as well, the researchers say.

Women are known to have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Education is thought to be linked with dementia onset.

The study team analyzed the effect of education and birth year on differences in memory and verbal fluency among nearly 16,000 participants born between 1930 and 1955. Women had better memory scores overall, which became more significant in the groups born more recently. But in the older birth cohort, women had poorer fluency scores than men. That difference progressively reversed in the groups born later, reported Mikaela Bloomberg, a Ph.D. candidate from University College London. 

Women born between 1946 and 1955 had better fluency scores than their male counterparts, a change that could be partially explained by an increase in education level with each successive birth cohort. In the first half of the 20th century, these education inequalities led to lower education levels among women, the authors contend.

Poor performance on memory and verbal fluency tests is strongly tied to dementia, Bloomberg wrote. An increase in educational opportunities may therefore not only help improve midlife cognition for women but reduce sex differences in dementia risk for future generations, she and her colleagues concluded.

The study was published in The Lancet.