50+ health * Mental wellbeing

University degree can "protect against dementia"

education and dementia Education in general helps the brain fight symptoms

There is much debate at present about the true economic value of education - higher degrees in particular. But a new study suggests that the benefits of extended learning could be medical too, as it seems that the more we learn the better the brain is able to deal with the effects of age-related mental conditions such as Alzheimer's.

Swedish researchers looked at people suffering from mild cognitive impairment with different levels of education - low, intermediate and high.

By looking at fluid samples from the patients' spines, the scientists were able to measure the signs of dementia in the brain. They found that although the patients with the highest education had more signs of the disease, they had the same levels of symptoms.

This suggests that the dementia needs to progress further in more highly educated people to produce the same effect on their mental condition. In effect their brains are better able to tolerate the causes of dementia.

Commenting on the results, study scientist Sindre Rolstad said: "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. 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."

The results indicate that a higher reserve capacity delays the symptoms of dementia and the progress of the disease. This can help the care sector to be more aware of dementia in highly educated patients, and thus increase the chances of the correct treatment being given.

The study was carried out at the University of Gothenburg.

This article was published on Wed 2 June 2010

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