Putting your brain to use through years of formal education can serve as a protector against the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. The remarkable effect discovered was not that years of education lower the odds of getting the disease. Instead, researchers discovered that those individuals with more formal education were not showing clinical symptoms of brain deficits compared to other people with Alzheimer’s and without the educational background.
These phenomena are often ascribed to the theoretical concept of cognitive reserve. A high level of cognitive reserve results in a strong individual resilience against symptoms of brain damage; cognitive reserve can therefore be seen as protective against brain damage.
The amount of brain tissue lost was assessed through MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans. Somehow, those with the benefit of a formal education showed an equal amount of brain volume lost, yet they were able to function normally.
Human brains are flexible organs, and it’s never too late to give them a workout. Although this study, published in the current issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (“Education attenuates the effect of medial temporal lobe atrophy on cognitive function in Alzheimer’s disease: The MIRAGE Study,” Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, August 2009), used formal education as a convenient guideline, you can get similar benefits by exercising your brain regularly with mentally challenging activities.