Some people are able to maintain better brain function as they age, even if they develop the physical damage associated with dementia. This protective ‘cognitive reserve’ appears to be linked to modifiable factors such as the level of education reached, carrying out cognitively demanding tasks and being socially active.
Prof Yaakov Stern talks about cognitive reserve and the link between leisure activities, education and social networks
As you get older, your brain does too. For some people, physical changes in the ageing brain correspond to a slowing down in brain function. But for others, their brains continue to function well. How? The concept of ‘cognitive reserve’ suggests that some people can find ways around the physical changes associated with ageing or even dementia.
Having this cognitive reserve could allow them the flexibility to compensate, much like finding side-roads to avoid a traffic jam on a major highway and still get to the destination. Now the big question is: can you build up this reserve, this ‘money in the brain bank’?
It’s a new area of study, but scientists are looking at the kinds of modifiable factors that are linked with having apparently high cognitive reserve, such as how much education a person has had, and how a person engages with the world around them.
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This article from the Indian Journal of Psychiatry reviews the science on social networks and dementia
This paper from the SHARE (Survey on Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe) study highlights the importance of being actively engaged