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Education doesn't slow rate of decline in Alzheimer's patients

February 2, 2009 |  1:53 pm

Alzheimers1Having more years of formal education appears to reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, according to several published studies. But new research suggests that education probably has less effect on the disease than those other studies suggest.

The paper, published today in the journal Neurology, found that though the symptoms of cognitive decline are less apparent in well-educated people, once memory loss begins those people tend to decline just as rapidly as less-educated people with the disease. The researchers, from the Alzheimer's Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, reviewed data of 6,000 older African American and white residents of a community on the south side of Chicago. The study participants completed cognitive tests at three-year intervals for up to 14 years. The study concluded that one's level of education was strongly related to cognitive function at the start of the study and was associated with reduced cognitive decline in the early years of follow-up. But it ultimately did not protect people against how fast they lost their memory.

It is possible, the researchers said, that a high educational level may protect against some aspects of cognitive decline in old age -- for example, problem-solving skills -- but not others, such as memory.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times