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Dementia in More Educated Hits Later But Harder
Date:10/23/2007

More schooling delayed disease onset, but decline was more rapid afterward, study finds

TUESDAY, Oct. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Having a higher level of education seems to delay the onset of dementia, but once cognitive decline begins, the descent is more precipitous, a new study finds.

The findings confirm the so-called "cognitive reserve hypothesis," which posits that people with more education have some kind of brain "reserve" that allows them to withstand the ravages of dementia longer. Eventually, however, the disease overwhelms this reserve, and the mental decline that follows is accelerated.

"The working hypothesis has been that people with higher education have some kind of reserve either in neuronal capacity or compensatory ability which allows the symptoms to be masked for a longer period of time," said study author Charles B. Hall, an associate professor of biostatistics in the department of epidemiology and population health and the department of neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. His report was published in the Oct. 23 issue of Neurology.

Hall and his colleague set out to test the hypothesis by looking at 117 people who developed dementia (they were among an original group of 488 people).

Participants were followed for an average of six years, undergoing cognitive evaluations each year. Formal educational levels ranged from less than three years of elementary school to a post-graduate education.

For each additional year of formal education, the accelerated memory decline associated with dementia was delayed by about two-and-a-half months.

Once that accelerated decline stopped, however, the people with more education experienced a rate of cognitive decline about 4 percent faster for each additional year of schooling.

The practical implications of the study are limited for now, Hall said, because there are no effective intervent
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