Researchers from the Kessler Foundation have found that higher educational achievement reduces the negative impact of traumatic brain injury (TBI) on cognitive status. The study appeared in Archives of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation.
It was reported in the study that cognitive ability after experiencing TBI differs in individuals even when their injury levels were comparable. As a result, the researchers involved in the study sought to determine whether the differences in cognitive abilities among similar TBI cases could be explained with the hypothesis of cognitive reserve: that patients with TBI who achieved greater intellectual enrichment before being injured could be less vulnerable to cognitive impairment.
In the study, 44 patients with moderate to severe TBI and 36 healthy individuals participated and received neuropsychological tasks for evaluation of their cognitive status. “Although cognitive status was worse in the TBI group, higher education attenuated the negative effect of TBI on cognitive status, such that persons with higher education were protected against TBI-related cognitive impairment,” said Dr. Sumowski, senior research scientist in Neuropsychology & Neuroscience Research at Kessler Foundation.
Previously, Dr. Sumowski and his colleagues demonstrated that the cognitive reserve hypothesis could also explain the phenomenon in patients with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that destroys the central nerve systems of patients.
In the study, 38 patients with MS were evaluated for brain atrophy through information processing (IP) efficiency based on a vocabulary-based estimate of premorbid intelligence (Wechsler Vocabulary) and a composite measure of IP efficiency (Symbol Digit Modalities Test and Paced Auditory Serial Addition Task). Results showed that MS patients with higher levels of reserve experienced less negative effect of brain atrophy, and were better at withstanding MS neuropathology without suffering cognitive impairment.
Given the fact that brain atrophy and memory loss is a major issue with Multiple Sclerosis — one that is being aggressively targeted by MS researchers as they search for effective treatments for protecting the brain — the insights from the MS study could also have a significant benefit to the treatment of TBI as well.