Could an individual’s education level help protect against cognitive decline in Latin America?
Natlia Gomes Gonçalves, Ph.D.
University of Sao Paulo Medical School
Sao Paulo, Brazil
Recent research suggests that education is a protective factor against cognitive decline. Studies have shown that education can bolster an individual’s “cognitive reserve,” or their ability to resist age-related disease or injury. Early-life education as well as education associated with an individual’s occupation may contribute to one's cognitive reserve. However, most of this research has been conducted in high-income countries. In low- and middle-income countries, intellectual challenges associated with working and education levels tend to be lower. It’s not clear what effect this may have on an individual’s cognitive reserve or its ability to help protect against diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Natalia Gomes Gonçalves and colleagues will investigate the association between cognitive reserve and cognitive performance in large groups of individuals from two studies: 14,779 participants from the Mexican Health and Aging Study, and 9,412 participants from the Brazilian Longitudinal Study of Aging. The goal is to better understand cognitive reserve in these two countries.
Dr. Gomes Gonçalves’ team will develop a strategy to compare the cognitive testing results from both studies. The researchers will use statistical methods to harmonize the different testing approaches. Next, the researchers will evaluate the link between an individual’s cognitive test results, their occupational complexity (i.e. unskilled, semi-skilled, or skilled), and their total years of education. Finally, Dr. Gomes Gonçalves will investigate whether other factors affect these associations, including an individual’s sex, health care access, or living environment (rural vs. urban).
This study will be one of the first to investigate how an individual’s educational experiences might influence their cognition outside of a high-income country. It is an important step toward extending findings of previous studies that highlight cognitive benefits of education to the majority of the world’s population.
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