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Education and dementia

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Learning new skills keeps the mind active, which is especially important as one gets older. Here I’ll break down how important it is to keeping exposing yourself to learning opportunities in adulthood.

Scientists have found a link between more years in early education and the reduced risk of dementia in adulthood (Brayne et al 2010). Knowing this you may ask the question, “What happens to your brain when you learn?” When you learn a new skill, your brain changes. There are lots of different pathways in your brain that are responsible for the different things you do. When you learn a new skill, you either form a new pathway or you strengthen a pathway that you already had. In either case, the connections in your brain get stronger and faster when you practice a new skill - making the connections less likely to break. When pathways break, a person may forget how to do something. However, the brain is quite good at finding alternative pathways to complete a certain task. With the appropriate exercise of these pathways, it can be possible regain a skill that had once been lost.

All in all, a higher quality of early education is not enough to stop a person from getting dementia, but it may influence the impact that dementia will have on the life of the individual. This is probably because people who have spent more time learning have stronger pathways that need more damage before symptoms are noticeable. Knowing this, scientists suggest that a person should take up more learning opportunities in middle age as a “buffer” to getting dementia in their older years. It is also a good thing to try and learn new skills after being diagnosed with dementia.

Learning a new skill with dementia may seem like a hurdle but, in fact, even the attempt to learn a new skill could be a step towards improving your day-to-day life. The STOMP* intervention has improved a person’s independence when it comes to daily skills such as personal hygiene and dressing (Ciro et al., 2014). STOMP is a form of learning therapy that can be performed at home. This is a method to be considered for those with dementia as a way to improve day-to-day tasks.

75% of people say that they would change their lifestyle in order to reduce the risk of developing dementia (Alzheimer’s Society 2017) but this is easier said than done. If possible, it is important that adults with dementia try expose themselves to learning opportunities to keep the mind active.


*STOMP = Skill-building through Task-Oriented Motor Practice



J Launer, L & Andersen, K & E Dewey, M & Letenneur, Luc & Ott, Alewijn & A Amaducci, L & Brayne, Carol & Copeland, John & F Dartigues, J & Kragh-Sorensen, P & Lobo, Antonio & Martinez-Lage, Jose & Stijnen, Theo & Hofman, A. (1999). Rates and risk factors for dementia and Alzheimer's disease: Results from EURODEM pooled analyses. Neurology. 52. 78-84.

Alzheimer’s Society (August 2017) Dementia education on risk inspires people in midlife to consider healthier lifestyles. https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/news/2018-04-10/dementia-education-risk-inspires-people-midlife-consider-healthier-lifestyles Accessed: 27.12.18

Carol Brayne, Paul G. Ince, Hannah A. D. Keage, Ian G. McKeith, Fiona E. Matthews, Tuomo Polvikoski, Raimo Sulkava; Education, the brain and dementia: neuroprotection or compensation?: EClipSE Collaborative Members, Brain, Volume 133, Issue 8, 1 August 2010, Pages 2210–2216, https://doi.org/10.1093/brain/awq185

Ciro CA, Dung Dao H, Anderson M, Robinson CA, Hamilton TB et al. (2014) Improving Daily Life Skills in People with Dementia: Testing the STOMP Intervention Model. J Alzheimers Dis Parkinsonism 4:165. doi: 10.4172/2161-0460.1000165

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Karen Harrison Dening

Care pathways have become a ubiquitous term in health and social care. A care pathway is defined as a complex intervention for the mutual decision-making and organisation of care processes for a well-defined group of patients during a well-defined period.

Tom Dening

Dementia is a big topic and one that’s become even more important recently. Trouble is, there’s such a lot of information out there, including people writing blogs, it could put you off trying to say anything.

Karen Harrison Dening

I first became conscious of the concept of planning ahead for the end-of-life in the early 1990’s when I became a community psychiatric nurse (CPN) supporting families affected by dementia.  Over my 6 years as a CPN I was involved with several people with dementia