Being smart and highly educated may not prevent Alzheimer's disease, but it appears to delay the disease's impact on everyday life, a new study suggests.
Researchers can't prove that that's the case, but their data suggests it might be.
"Our study was designed to look for trends, not prove cause and effect, but 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," said study author Dr Rebecca Gottesman. She's a professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
For the study, Gottesman and her team collected data on 331 middle-aged and older people without dementia who were followed for 20 years and had brain scans as part of a separate study.
The scans revealed how much plaques were in their brains, a hallmark of Alzheimer's. The group included people with less than a high school education and those who went to college.
The researchers found that those with more education scored better on tests of memory and language than those with less education, no matter how much plaque their brains contained.
They also found that cognition scores in midlife did not affect the amounts of plaque found later in life.
"Our data suggest that more education seems to play a role as a form of cognitive reserve that helps people do better at baseline, but it doesn't affect one's actual level of decline," Gottesman said in a university news release.
The report was published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.
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