The research is part of a 20-year study by the ANU Centre for Mental Health Research called PATH Through Life and suggests a revision of long-standing views on the impact of age-related brain shrinkage.
Professor Helen Christensen, the Director of the Centre for Mental Health Research (CMHR), said the findings challenged traditional beliefs about the impact of ageing on the brain.
"The common belief is that the brain shrinks with age and that this shrinkage is linked to poorer memory and thinking. There is also a belief that greater education, or continued, sustained intellectual activity might allow people to better accommodate the effects of brain ageing," Professor Christensen said. "Our findings do not support these beliefs. It is known that the brain shrinks over the course of a person's life, although the exact trajectory is not well understood, and there are huge individual differences.
"In this study, we found that, on average, men aged 64 years have smaller brains than men aged 60. However, despite this shrinkage, cognitive functions - like memory, attention and speed of processing - are unaffected.
"In the present study, we found no relationship between brain shrinkage and education level".
Low educational attainment has been found to predict the development of major memory difficulties and the recognition of dementia in previous work. However, little is known about whether education is protective of brain changes in the general population.
"Our findings do not support the role of education in protecting against either brain change or cognitive performance.
These findings are good news for the large proportion of baby boomers out there - and probably better news for the baby boomer women who show no eviden
Contact: Tim Winkler