For many years, specialists believed that people who studied more and kept their brains more
active had lower dementia risk. Some more recent studies have suggested that there is no link
between a person's level of education and Alzheimer's-related cognitive decline.
In the recent past, researchers have argued that people who continue their education throughout
their lives have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, which is the most common form
of dementia and primarily characterized by progressive memory loss. However, studies
published this year have found no evidence in support of this conclusion.
A high level of education is supposed to boost a person's cognitive reserve, which refers to the
brain's ability to preserve and maintain cognitive function despite any damage.
Theoretically, this reserve should act as a safeguard against cognitive impairment, which can
occur naturally, as a person ages. But is it really effective in preventing or slowing down the
development of Alzheimer's disease?
New research — conducted by Dr. Rebecca Gottesman, from The Johns Hopkins University
School of Medicine, in Baltimore, MD, and colleagues — has found no link between a person's
cognitive reserve in midlife and a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease.
However, the study confirms that people with higher levels of education may remain cognitively
functional for longer, purely thanks to the fact that their "reserve" takes longer to become
The investigators report their findings in a study paper featured in the Journal of Alzheimer's
The researchers nevertheless warn that their study has only looked at associations, not cause any
Our study was designed to look for trends, not prove cause and effect," explains Dr. Gottesman,
who adds, however, that The major implication of our study is that exposure to education and
better cognitive performance when you' re younger can help preserve cognitive function for a
while even if it's unlikely to change the course of the disease."
This would, ironically, render people with higher education more susceptible to dementia, as it
can progress for longer and do far more damage before being detected, while people without
the cognitive reserve can detect the disease almost immediately.
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