Cadar et al., 2017. An International Evaluation of Cognitive Reserve and Memory Changes in Early Old Age in 10 European Countries.

Background: Cognitive reserve was postulated to explain individual differences in susceptibility to ageing, offering apparent protection to those with higher education. We investigated the association between education and change in memory in early old age. 

Methods: Immediate and delayed memory scores from over 10,000 individuals aged 65 years and older, from 10 countries of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe, were modeled as a function of time in the study over an 8-year period, fitting independent latent growth models. Education was used as a marker of cognitive reserve and evaluated in association with memory performance and rate of change, while accounting for income, general health, smoking, body mass index, gender, and baseline age. 

Results: In most countries, more educated individuals performed better on both memory tests at baseline, compared to those less educated. However, education was not protective against faster decline, except for in Spain for both immediate and delayed recall (0.007 [SE = 0.003] and 0.006 [SE = 0.002]), and Switzerland for immediate recall (0.006 [SE = 0.003]). Interestingly, highly educated Italian respondents had slightly faster declines in immediate recall (-0.006 [SE = 0.003]). 

Conclusions: We found weak evidence of a protective effect of education on memory change in most European samples, although there was a positive association with memory performance at individuals' baseline assessment.