Seven Times More Likely


2014-0604 May the OddsOn 5/1/2014, I published a post about researchers who are connecting prior education to the speed of post-injury recovery. In the post, I mentioned I had not read evidence supporting the reported findings. Today, I found another article about the same subject, but I still have some doubts. I am not suggesting the findings are wrong, I am simply saying there are some unanswered questions. Keep in mind I am not a medical researcher or statistician. 

Article by Emma Ines 

People who have [attended a] university are better able to recover from traumatic brain injuries, new research suggests. They are seven times more likely to make a full recovery than people who did not finish school. People who have remained in education for longer have a greater ‘cognitive reserve’, which means they are less likely to be left permanently disabled after a head injury. Their brains are better able to maintain function in spite of damage which makes them more resilient.

The researchers do not yet know exactly why this is but they think it is related to more active, or more effective, use of the brain’s ‘muscles’, strengthening them. ‘After these types of injuries, some people are disabled for life and are never able to go back to work, while other people who have similar injuries recover fully,’ said study author Dr. Eric Schneider of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

‘We understand some factors that lead to these differences, but we can’t explain all the variation. These results may provide another piece of the puzzle.’ He added: ‘People with increased cognitive reserve capabilities may actually heal in a different way that allows them to return to their pre–injury function and/or they may be able to better adapt and form new pathways in their brains to compensate for the injury.

‘Further studies are needed to not only find out, but also to use that knowledge to help people with less cognitive reserve.’ The researchers, who published their findings in the journal Neurology, studied 769 people who had suffered head injuries – mostly in traffic accidents and falls. The participants were grouped by their levels of education – 24 percent did not finish school, 51 percent had 12 to 15 years of education and 25 percent had obtained at least an undergraduate degree.

One year after the injury, 28 percent of the patients had no disability and were able to return to work or study. Only 10 percent of those who did not finish school were free of disability, compared to 31 percent of those with some college education and 39 percent of those with a college degree. ‘And people with some college education were nearly five times more likely to fully recover than those without enough education to earn a high school diploma.

Shadow of Doubt

Please understand this is not a critique of the study. I am simply saying there are many factors that influence recovery. The concept that prior education is the only factor, or even the most significant factor, is an egregious distortion of the results. For example, could military service prior to university education actually be the underlying cause of a rapid recovery? Why is it universities promote their post-graduate job rate rather than their post-graduate recovery rate from brain injury or their post-graduate delay of Alzheimer’s? 98.3 percent of our graduates avoid Alzheimer’s 20 year longer than graduates of the schools with high-dollar tuition. The article does not mention if a degree in Underwater Basket Weaving is as likely to reduce brain injury recovery as a degree in Particle Physics. Finally, the article makes no mention of how a student’s effort or grade in the university affects recovery. If two people receive the identical injury, but person A earns an A in all master’s level courses of Portfolio Risk and person B has a B in the same courses at the same university, I don’t think it is necessarily true that person A will recover faster than person B.


Click here to read another Beyond Injury post about the connection between recovery and prior education.

Thanks to Google for helping me find the article; Dr. Eric Schneider of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine for authoring the study; Neurology for publishing the study; study participants; Emma Ines for writing the article upon which this post is based; Mail Online for publishing the article written by Ines;  and all the other people who, directly or indirectly, made it possible for me to include the picture and text in this post.


  1. Hi Scott,
    I agree with your skepticism of this article. Many factors come into play in recovery. If you do find out how the author came up with the “seven times” claim please share.

    1. Howard, I think the study is so flawed that I cannot see myself spending any more time on the story than I already have. However, if I do see something that pertains to or supports the study, I will let you know. I appreciate your comments and questions.

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