With roughly 1.7 million Americans sustaining a traumatic brain injury (TBI) each year, new research spearheaded by Johns Hopkins School of Medicines Eric B. Schneider, PhD. has shed light on the link between the length of a persons educational career and the brains ability to recover from traumatic brain injury (TBI).

In the study, Schneider explores the cognitive reserve theory, which may address ways that victims can better recover from serious brain injuries.

The cognitive reserve theory hypothesizes that the brains of people with a larger education may have developed safeguards that help them recover from injuries more quickly and fully than those with fewer years of education. A past study on Alzheimer’s patients and education was conducted with findings that indicate TBI victims may experience the same trend, Schneider notes.

Victims of TBI regularly experience damage to normal brain function which may return to varying degrees but is very often permanent. Schneider’s study examined 769 TBI victims 23 years and older. 185 of the participants had not finished high school; 390 had 12 15 years of education, or at least completed high school and taken some college-level courses; 194 had 16 years or more of total education or had completed at least an undergraduate degree.

The research team followed these patients for one full year, and their findings support the cognitive reserve theory:

  • At the end of the year, 28% of all the study’s participants had no disability from their TBI
  • Of those who had no high school diploma, only 23% were free of disability while 31% of participants who had completed some college showed full recovery, and 39% of participants with an undergraduate degree were back to normal levels of functioning.

Patients with an educational career length equal to finishing a bachelors degree were more than seven times likelier to recover from their injuries fully than their less-educated counterparts.

Participants with some college education had similar results, though not as robust: they were five times more likely to show full recovery than those who had not finished high school.

Studying how the brain reacts to TBI is an important part of treating people who may be suffering from it. Schneider says that this research necessitates further studies on the impact education may have on helping others recover from TBI, and whether education does offer some protection from seemingly irreversible damage.

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