Research has found  that the onset of dementia is delayed in people who have more years of formal education. But a new study shows that this protection may come at a price: once dementia does hit, the well-educated lose their memory faster.

Researchers from Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University studied people who have formal education levels of less than three years of elementary school to individuals with postgraduate education and found that for every additional year of schooling people had, their memory declined 4 percent more quickly after the onset of dementia. The researchers speculate that individuals with more education can unconsciously compensate as their brain changes with age, preventing the early symptoms of dementia from showing. Consequently, when disease eventually overwhelms the brain and symptoms become severe enough to warrant a diagnosis of dementia, the memory decline that follows is more rapid because the degeneration is at a later stage.

The study included 117 people who developed dementia out of an original cohort of 488. The researchers, led by Charles B. Hall, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology and population health at Einstein, followed study participants for an average of six years using annual cognitive tests. “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 Dr. Hall. “Our study showed that a person with 16 years of formal education would experience a rate of memory decline that is 50% faster than someone with just 4 years education.”

Past studies have shown that challenging the brain with activities, such as solving puzzles or reading books, may also delay dementia. But researchers do not yet know if these mental challenges truly protect the brain or if the people who engage in these activities are simply better educated.

Source: Science Daily