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MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS
NEWS

Higher Education Levels May Protect Against MS Cognitive Decline

Posted on November 10, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Amit M. Shelat, D.O.
Article written by
Torrey Kim

  • A recent study found that people with multiple sclerosis (MS) who had higher levels of formal education experienced lower cognitive decline.
  • The study authors found that those with MS who had completed 15 years or more of formal education maintained stronger verbal fluency and logical memory compared to those with six to eight years.
  • Further research into brain structure and metabolism could help scientists find ways to delay cognitive decline in people with MS.

Although no level of education is proven to slow the progress or change the disease course of multiple sclerosis, higher educational achievement may help people with the condition guard against some symptoms of cognitive decline.

Researchers in Spain found that people with MS who had 15 years or more of formal education were able to maintain more of their verbal capacity than those who had finished just six to eight years of education.

The study had the primary goal of analyzing three cognitive factors among 65 people living with MS:

  • Verbal fluency — The ease with which a person can produce words
  • Short-term memory — A person’s capacity for remembering small amounts of information — such as a phone number — for short periods of time
  • Logical memory — A person’s ability to remember and recall information over longer periods of time

Researchers analyzed whether declines in these cognitive factors in people with MS were connected to variables including age, sex, type of MS, and educational level. Researchers used a battery of tests to measure participants’ memory and verbal fluency.

Among the findings:

  • Age — Researchers found no connection between the cognitive variables and age.
  • Sex — Short-term memory appeared to be less severely affected in women with MS than in men.
  • Type of MS — Researchers confirmed previous findings that verbal fluency is affected more severely in people with secondary progressive MS (SPMS) than in those with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS).
  • Educational level — Higher educational levels (15 years or more) were associated with higher scores in logical memory and verbal fluency tests.

“Our study shows that educational level is a potentially protective factor against the disease, acting as a source of intellectual enrichment that provides a cognitive reserve for MS patients, so helping to mitigate cognitive decline,” the authors wrote.

Although verbal fluency is affected in 40 percent to 64 percent of people with MS, it is often considered a benchmark for diagnosing MS cognitive impairment; thus, it is used frequently in neuropsychological assessments, the study authors noted.

Researchers urged further study into this area. “It is possible that greater knowledge, particularly concerning changes in brain metabolism, might assist in attempts to delay the impact of cognitive and physical decline in people with MS and perhaps endow them with effective tools to better cope with the disease itself following their diagnosis,” they noted.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Amit M. Shelat, D.O. is a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology and the American College of Physicians. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Torrey Kim is a freelance writer with MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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