Giving Compass' Take:

• Researchers found that having a higher level of education does not help elderly populations battle cognitive decline and dementia. 

• How can donors make an impact on cognitive diseases? Is funding research the best way to make an impact?

• Read about why it would be helpful for the U.S. to look to other cultures when treating dementia. 

Researchers are still trying to piece together how and why the brain starts failing in old age, but one thing seemed for sure: that having more education earlier in life could build up a robust enough brain reserve to slow down the harmful effects of cognitive decline that can occur toward the end of life.

But in a new study published in the journal Neurology, researchers found that education may not be as important in combating cognitive decline and dementia as they once thought.

“Education is providing some protection against getting dementia, but providing no protection against [the rate] of cognitive decline,” says the study’s lead author Robert Wilson, professor of neurological sciences and behavioral sciences at Rush University Medical Center. “We found a fairly consistent answer that education is not modifying the trajectory of cognitive change in old age.”

The findings do not suggest that education provides no benefit when it comes to protecting the aging brain. Higher education can help to build more robust networks of cells, which seems to help protect against the deteriorating cells that come with aging. But once the cognitive decline starts, that advantage appears to be erased.

Wilson suspects that education loses it edge because it occurs relatively early in life, and its effects might have waned by the time cognitive decline begins, which is typically later in life. That’s why other behaviors, including remaining socially engaged, keeping the brain active by learning new languages, reading and taking in new experiences, might be more important for slowing the rate of cognitive problems once they start. Having a sense of purpose in older age is also important, Wilson says — which should be reassuring to many, since these activities can all be changed.

Read the full article about education and dementia by Alice Park at TIME