Education Helps Slow Dementia

Photo taken by Christopher Bruno. There are no usage restrictions for this photo

Education not only delays the early symptoms of dementia, but can also delay the development of the disease, a new study suggests. These findings could result in faster diagnosis and treatment of dementia, according to a thesis from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

While previous studies have shown that education offers some degree of protection against the symptoms of  disorders of the brain, the new study sheds light on the onset of the disease and how it is handled by the brain.

"This mechanism has previously been observed at a late stage of the disease, primarily in cases of Alzheimer's, which is a type of dementia," said researcher Sindre Rolstad, of the University of Gothenburg. "We wanted to investigate how education affected the disease in the early stages of dementia, known as mild cognitive impairment."

Using highly educated and uneducated test subjects, researchers were able to analyze the patients' spinal fluid, which showed how far the dementia had advanced in their brains. Early signs of dementia include a reduction in one's ability to think, such as reduced memory and a short attention span.

"We wanted to find out whether highly educated patients with mild cognitive impairment differed in terms of tolerance of the disease from patients with intermediate and low levels of education," Rolstad said.

The study's results showed that highly educated patients with mild cognitive impairment who went on to develop dementia over the next two years had more signs of disease in their spinal fluid than those with intermediate and low levels of education, according to Rolstad.

The advanced signs of the disease in the brains of highly educated patients, even though these patients showed the same symptoms of the disease as their less well-educated counterparts, suggest patients with more education tolerate more disease in the brain, researchers said.

Two of the well-educated patients who suffered from mild cognitive impairment did not go on to develop dementia over the next two years.

"We found that the highly educated patients who did not develop dementia during the course of the study showed signs of better nerve function than those with lower levels of education," Rolstad said. "This finding means that the highly educated not only tolerate more disease in the brain but also sustain less nerve damage during the early stages of the disease."

Remy Melina was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Hofstra University where she graduated with honors.