Literacy and dementia
The ability to read and write may offer some protection against dementia, a new study suggests. Researchers at Columbia University examined 983 people—all age 65 or older, most of them immigrants from the Dominican Republic—who had attended school for no more than four years. Three-quarters of the participants had learned to read outside of school; the other quarter could neither read nor write. For a study period of about four years, the participants periodically took tests on memory, language, and reasoning. The researchers found that the illiterate participants were 2½ times more likely to have dementia at the start of the study than those who could read and write, and were twice as likely to have developed the condition by the end. “Early-life exposures and early-life social opportunities have an impact on later life,” co-author Jennifer Manly tells The New York Times. “That’s the underlying theme here.” Manly and her colleagues now want to see whether the same effect occurs in other populations—and whether learning to read and write in middle age can lower dementia risk.