People with mild cognitive impairment may not go on to develop dementia if they have a high standard of education and advanced written language skills, according to new research.

The study, published in Neurology, found that almost one third of 472 women diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment reverted to normal cognition at least once over an average of eight-and-a-half years following their diagnosis, with more than 80% of them never developing dementia.

Of the remaining participants, almost one third progressed to dementia without ever reverting to normal cognition, 3% stayed in the mild cognitive impairment stage, and 36% died.

Higher levels of education more than doubled the chances of returning to normal cognition

The researchers found that reverse transitions were much more common than in relatively younger individuals who didn’t carry a certain genetic risk factor and had high levels of education and language skills.

As lead author, Suzanne Tyas, explains: “Possessing high cognitive reserve – based on education, high academic grades, and written language skills – may predict what happens years after someone receives a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment.

“Even after considering age and genetics – established risk factors for dementia – we found that higher levels of education more than doubled the chances that people with mild cognitive impairment would return to normal cognition instead of progressing to dementia.”

Encouraging to find “there are other ways to reduce the risk of dementia”

The authors of the study say the research has implications for treatment and research in people with mild cognitive impairment.

Tyas says as there’s no cure for dementia, prevention is key: “We can’t do much about age and genetics, so it’s encouraging that our findings show that there are other ways to reduce the risk of dementia, such as building cognitive reserve through education and language skills earlier in life.”

She adds that education levels need to be taken into consideration when recruiting participants for clinical trials, as this could skew the results.