In a new study, researchers found that education and IQ may protect people’s cognitive functions, but they don’t protect against Alzheimer’s disease.
They found that smarter, more educated people are not protected from the disease, but they do get a cognitive “head start” that may keep their brain functions better.
The research was conducted by Johns Hopkins Medicine scientists.
About 5 million people in the U.S. live with Alzheimer’s disease, and the number is expected to triple by 2060, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Currently, there are no effective treatment options for Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Researchers are eager to find ways to prevent or delay disease.
In the study, the team tested whether people with higher IQ or more education might have lower rates of these diseases.
They used data from the federally funded Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, which included nearly 16,000 middle-aged healthy adults.
These people were enrolled from 1987 to 1989 and followed over the next decades.
The team found that people with college, postgraduate or professional schooling had higher cognitive scores than those who had less than high school education, regardless of beta-amyloid levels in the brain.
Education seems to help preserve cognition since those with education scored higher.
However, cognition scores in midlife weren’t linked to elevated levels of amyloid beta protein in the brain in late life.
The team says more education may play a role as a form of cognitive reserve that helps people do better at baseline, but it doesn’t affect one’s actual level of decline.
People who start out with greater cognitive reserve may have more they can afford to lose before Alzheimer’s disease symptoms begin to interfere with their daily lives.
They conclude that exercising the brain might help keep people cognitively functional longer, but won’t ward off the inevitable decline of Alzheimer’s disease.
One author of the study is Rebecca Gottesman, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurology.
The study is published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
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