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Education Enhances Ability to Cope with Alzheimer's

Better educated have lower glucose metabolism in affected brain areas

TUESDAY, Oct. 21 (HealthDay News) -- People with a higher education and occupational level who go on to develop Alzheimer's disease have lower glucose metabolism in brain areas affected by the disease than less-educated people, suggesting that they are better able to cope with the same levels of brain pathology than the less-educated, researchers report in the Oct. 21 issue of Neurology.

Valentina Garibotto, M.D., from Vita Salute San Raffaele University in Milan, Italy, and colleagues examined the impact of education and occupation (as proxies of cognitive reserve) on glucose metabolism by 18F-fluoro-deoxy-glucose positron emission tomography in 242 patients with probable Alzheimer's disease, 72 with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) and 144 healthy controls.

After a mean follow-up of 14.3 months, the researchers found that 21 subjects with aMCI had progressed to Alzheimer's disease. After adjusting for a number of variables and comparing similar levels of cognitive impairment, patients who progressed or had probable Alzheimer's disease had a more severe reduction in glucose metabolism in the posterior temporoparietal cortex and precuneus, areas typically affected by Alzheimer's disease pathology, if they had a higher education and occupational level, the report indicates.

"This study suggests that education and occupation may be proxies for brain functional reserve, reducing the severity and delaying the clinical expression of Alzheimer disease pathology," Garibotto and colleagues conclude. "The results in aMCI converters suggest that functional reserve is already at play in the pre-dementia phase of Alzheimer disease."

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