Ward off dementia with an active brain

I remember that awful moment as a new job applicant when I first realized nobody cared about my school grade point average anymore. But according to some new research, those grades did matter! In fact, when all is said and done, there may be some long-lasting benefits to getting good grades in school after all.

A study presented last month at the Alzheimer’s Association’s International Conference showed children in Sweden who got good grades in elementary school–and eventually worked in positions that required complex analysis–had a lower risk of dementia 50 years later in life. (Fortunately, some parents and students in Sweden kept those old report cards in “cold storage,” so to speak, for this study.)

These findings don’t surprise me.

It appears habits of mind are long lasting and have long-lasting benefits for health. And intellectual engagement and curiosity throughout life protects the brain. For example, as I reported in the February 2015 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter, studies show when you learn one or more new languages at any point in life, you have a lower risk of dementia.

The latest study came from the Karolinksa Institute in Sweden. The investigators followed 7,547 men and women over age 64 years from the Uppsala Birth Cohort Study for more than 20 years. They obtained information on childhood grades at age 10 years, as well as eventual occupational attainment.

During the course of the study, 950 participants developed dementia.

Turns out, those with the lowest grades at age 10 years had a 21 percent higher risk of eventually developing dementia.

Occupational factors also played a part…

In fact, men and women who worked in occupations at mid-life that involved expertise with data analysis had a 23 percent lower risk of developing dementia.

The most beneficial adult occupations were those that involved high demands on negotiating, instructing, and supervising. These activities involve “executive functions” in the brain.

Men and women who had both high childhood grades and pursued analytical occupations had the very lowest dementia risk–a 39 percent reduction.

In another, smaller study from the Karolinksa Institute, investigators followed men and women ages 75 years and older. In that study, those who had the lowest school grades at ages 9 and 10 years had a 50 percent higher dementia risk. That huge increase in risk held up even if the students went on to obtain formal education and hold a higher occupational level. In other words, educational and occupational attainment did not compensate for low childhood grades.

Early-life cognitive ability appears to form a permanent foundation for healthy, later-life cognitive aging. A century ago, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw made observations to the effect, “show me the boy at 10, and I will show you the man at 60.” So, as your children or grandchildren go back to school, think about keeping them actively engaged in academic work as well as extracurricular activities.

Of course, you and I can’t do anything now about those old school grades, but we can ward off and even reverse dementia with some simple, natural approaches, according to some new studies.

Take 10,000 IU of vitamin D and 400 IU of vitamin E daily. Plus, make sure to get magnesium into your diet, or as an ingredient in better-quality dietary supplements.



  1. “Good Elementary School Grades Linked to Lower Dementia Risk,” Medscape (www.medscape.com) 7/20/2015