People with More Education Recover Better From Traumatic Brain Injury

By: Dr. Pascale Michelon

Educated people appear to recover better from a moderate to severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). This suggests that education helps protect the brain.

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine studied 769 patients enrolled in the TBI Model Systems database, an ongoing multi-center cohort of patients funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. All patients had been hospitalized with a moderate to severe TBI (most of which were from car accidents and falls) and then admitted to a rehabilitation facility.

After such injuries some people are disabled for life while others fully recover. Of the 769 patients of the study, 28% were free of any detectable disability one year after their injury. Among these people, only 10% were people who did not complete high school, while 31% were people with between 12 and 15 years of schooling and almost 40% were people who had 16 or more years of education.

In another words, the analysis showed that people with the equivalent of at least a college education were seven times more likely that those who did not finish high school to fully recover, one year after a serious traumatic brain injury.

Researchers used the concept of cognitive reserve or the brain’s ability to be resilient in the face of damage, to explain such a difference. Years of education have often been seen as a good indicator of cognitive reserve. In studies on dementia, more education has been linked repeatedly to delayed onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

The association between education and better recovery from TBI is not clear yet. It is possible that people with more cognitive reserve may 1) heal in a different way, or 2) better adapt and compensate for their injury. A better understanding of the underlying mechanisms will necessitate further studies. It is important as it could help devise new rehabilitation strategies.

This study underlines the value of stimulating our brain throughout life, either by continuing to educate ourselves or by engaging in cognitively challenging activities.

References: Schneider, E. B., Sur, S., Raymont, V. et al (2014). Functional recovery after moderate/severe traumatic brain injury: A role for cognitive reserve? Neurology, 82(18), 1636-1642.

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