Rate of Memory Loss Greater in Dementia Patients With More Education

According to a recent study in the journal Neurology, while higher education levels initially delay the onset of dementia, once dementia starts, the rate of memory loss is more rapid than in less educated individuals.

According to study author Charles B. Hall, PhD of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, "our study showed that a person with 16 years of formal education would experience a rate of memory decline that is 50% faster than someone with just four years of education."

The study started in the 1980s, and monitored 488 people born between 1894 and 1906, with study findings based on the 117 members of the sample who eventually developed Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. Study participants ranged from people with postgraduate education to people with less than three years of elementary school education.

Dr. Hall believes that this rapid decline in the more educated people might be explained by their having a greater cognitive reserve, or the brain’s ability to maintain function in spite of damage. This meant that while patients are often diagnosed with dementia at a later date, once the cognitive reserve is no longer able to compensate for the damage that has occurred, then the symptoms emerge.

The study is valuable, says Dr. Hall, because it examines memory loss before a formal diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

The study was supported by the National Institute on Aging. Other researchers from the Einstein Aging Study involved in the research included Carol Derby, PhD; Aaron LeValley, MA; Mindy J. Katz, MPH; Joe Verghese, MD; and Richard B. Lipton, MD.

Source: Neurology, October 23, 2007

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