Mar 26, 2003
People with higher levels of education appear to be protected from cognitive deterioration associated with white matter lesions, according to a report published in the March issue of Neurology.
Based on the findings, the study's authors suggest that a person's education level should be taken into account when evaluating the effects of such lesions.
There is considerable evidence that education may reduce the risk of dementia, so a team led by Dr. Carole Dufouil, from Hopital La Salpetriere in Paris, set out to determine whether educational level offsets the mental decline seen with white matter lesions.
The investigators used MRI to identify white matter lesions in the brains of 845 people, between 64 and 76 years of age. The participants underwent a battery of cognitive function tests and also reported their educational level.
Severe white matter lesions were found in 17% of participants who scored poorly on attention tests, the researchers state.
Among people with less than 11 years of schooling, the presence of severe white matter lesions was strongly associated with poor mental performance. But "there was no significant association" between the severity of white matter lesions and cognitive performance in people with higher levels of education.
The results demonstrate that education has a "strong" effect on the relationship between white matter lesions and cognitive performance, the authors conclude.
Moreover, the findings support the idea that education provides a "cognitive reserve" that buffers mental decline, the researchers note.
© 2003 Reuters Ltd