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STUDY: Good education can stave off cognitive impairment

There are ways to reduce the risk of dementia

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By Tom Campbell via SWNS

A good education and written language skills can stave off mild cognitive impairment, often a precursor to dementia, a new study claims.

People with cognitive impairment struggle with mental tasks like concentrating, remembering, learning and making decisions.

Student looking at camera while studying with classmates in library
A good education was linked with a lesser chance of developing dementia in the Canadian study. (ESB Professional/Shutterstock)

While not enough to stop people from performing daily tasks, it's often considered to be a warning sign that more serious health conditions like dementia are just around the corner.

But now researchers in Canada have cast doubt over this assumption after finding people can return to normal rather than deteriorate.

Author Professor Suzanne Tyas at the University of Waterloo said: "Possessing high cognitive reserve - based on education, high academic grades, and written language skills - may predict what happens years after someone receives a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment.

"Even after considering age and genetics - established risk factors for dementia - we found that higher levels of education more than doubled the chances that people with mild cognitive impairment would return to normal cognition instead of progressing to dementia.”

Female student outdoors with a group of people at the background
(ESB Professional/Shutterstock)

Dementia is one of the leading causes of death after COVID-19. In 2017, a total of 261,914 deaths attributable to dementia as an underlying cause of death were reported in the United States.

Data from 472 women who had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment was analyzed by the researchers to see whether their cognition worsened or improved over time.

Around a third of participants progressed to dementia without ever regaining their wits, while 36 percent passed away.

The other third returned to normal at least once over an average of eight-and-a-half years following their diagnosis, with 80 percent of them never developing dementia, the researchers found.

The chances of going back to normal were highest among younger individuals who did not carry a certain genetic trait.

It was also greater among those with high levels of education and language skills, the researchers found.

Professor Tyas said: "We can’t do much about age and genetics, so it’s encouraging that our findings show that there are other ways to reduce the risk of dementia, such as building cognitive reserve through education and language skills earlier in life."

A person's level of education and language skills should therefore be taken into account when studying cognitive impairment.

It also suggests steps can be taken to increase a person's odds of regaining their mental abilities after being diagnosed with cognitive impairment.

Professor Tyas said: "If individuals with a higher cognitive reserve are more likely to improve even without treatment, then this needs to be taken into consideration when recruiting participants for clinical trials of prospective treatments and when interpreting the results of these trials."

The findings were published in the journal Neurology.

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