Well-educated people lose their memory faster than those with less education in the years prior to a diagnosis of dementia, according to a study.
Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in the Bronx, N.Y., found that for each year of additional education a person receives over their lifetime, memory loss is accelerated by 4 percent.
The study, published in the Oct. 23 issue of the medical journal Neurology, included 117 people who developed dementia out of total of 488 original volunteers
The researchers, led by Charles B. Hall, associate professor of epidemiology and population health at Einstein, followed study participants for an average of six years using annual cognitive tests. Study participants ranged in formal education levels of less than three years of elementary school to individuals with postgraduate education.
The study found, for example, that a college graduate with 16 years of education, whose dementia is diagnosed at age 85, would have begun to experience accelerated memory decline 3.8 years earlier, at age 81, while a person with just four years of education, who is diagnosed at the same age, would have begun to experience a less rapid rate of decline around age 79, 6.3 years before diagnosis.
“While higher levels of education delay the onset of dementia, once it begins, the accelerated memory loss is more rapid in people with more education,” said Hall, in a news release. “Our study showed that a person with 16 years of formal education would experience a rate of memory decline that is 50 percent faster than someone with just 4 years education.
“This rapid decline may be explained by how people with more education have a greater cognitive reserve, or the brain’s ability to maintain function in spite of damage,” added Hall. “So, while they’re often diagnosed with dementia at a later date — which we believe may be because of their ability to hide the symptoms — there’s still damage to their brain.”