More evidence that education can protect against dementia

TUESDAY, March 8, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Not everyone who becomes forgetful as they age develops dementia, and a new study suggests those with college degrees and advanced language skills are likely to improve.

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is an early stage of memory loss marked by memory lapses and thinking problems that do not interfere with daily living. While people with MCI are more likely to develop dementia than people who don’t have these early memory lapses, some improve and return to normal.

“Although many people assume that if they develop mild cognitive impairment they will inevitably progress to dementia, we found encouraging evidence that this is not the case,” said study author Suzanne Tyas. , Associate Professor of Public Health Sciences at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. , Canada.

The study found that education and language skills can help predict who will develop dementia and who will not.

“These factors reflect exercise for the brain, and our work suggests they may be indicators of cognitive reserve,” Tyas said. But exactly how cognitive reserve helps protect against dementia is not yet fully understood.

“One possible mechanism is neural compensation, where the brains of individuals with higher levels of cognitive reserve may, using alternative brain networks, be better able to compensate for brain changes that initially led to mild cognitive impairment” , Tyas explained.

Researchers analyzed data from 619 American Catholic nuns, ages 75 and older, as part of a long study of aging and Alzheimer’s disease.

The nuns took tests measuring memory and other mental abilities until age 12 or until they died.

A total of 472 women were diagnosed with MCI during the study, and about a third (143) regained their normal memory level at least once for an average of 8.5 years after diagnosis. Nearly 84% of these 143 nuns have never developed dementia.

Another third progressed to dementia without ever returning to normal thinking and memory abilities, while 3% remained at the MCI stage and 36% of nuns died.

Participants who earned a bachelor’s degree were more than twice as likely to regain their memory compared to those who had a primary or secondary education. Nuns who had a master’s degree or more advanced education were even more likely to regain normal thinking skills after being diagnosed with MCI, the study found.

The results are also reassuring for people without such a high level of formal education, Tyas said.

Language skills, including those reflected in high grades in English lessons or strong writing skills, are also protected against dementia, the study found.

Those who had good grades in English but not in other subjects were almost twice as likely to improve after MCI than to develop dementia. Additionally, participants with strong writing skills based on the number of ideas expressed were four times more likely to improve than progress to dementia, according to the study. This effect was even stronger for those whose writing used a complex grammatical structure, Tyas said.

“Language is a complex function of the brain, so it makes sense that strong language skills would also be protective, and this effect was even stronger than for education,” Tyas said.

In addition to having high levels of education and strong language skills, nuns under the age of 90 who did not carry certain genetic risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia, were also more likely to see their Memory.

The bottom line? “It’s encouraging that our findings show that there are multiple factors that improve your chances of regaining cognitive function after experiencing mild cognitive impairment,” Tyas said.

The results were recently published online in the journal Neurology .

Dr Kenneth Langa, a dementia researcher at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, called the study “interesting and well done”.

Many people with MCI will get better on their own, said Langa, who was not part of the study.

“These results are consistent with those of other studies, but the careful measurement and long follow-up period of this study adds confidence in the results,” he said.

These findings should be considered when considering treatment, Langa said.

“The fact that a significant number of people with MCI will not go on to dementia, even in the absence of any treatment, increases the risk of overdiagnosis and potential overtreatment in people with MCI,” he said. he declares.

More information

The Alzheimer’s Association has information on reducing your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

SOURCES: Suzanne Tyas, PhD, associate professor, public health sciences, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; Kenneth Langa, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; NeurologyFebruary 4, 2022

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