Lifespan cognitive reserve is a protective factor against dementia

2.2 min readPublished On: 14. October 2020By Categories: causes, prevention

Not everyone grows old the same way. The occurrence of dementia is also not the same in every person. While some people can live longer with good cognitive function and no signs of memory loss (even in the presence of severe neurological disease), others suffer from cognitive and memory impairment without so many brain damages in neurological tests. 

The cognitive reserve (CR) hypothesis has been posed as a compensatory mechanism to cope with age- related brain damage and to explain the  interindividual variability in the ability to maintain cognitive function in the presence of brain disease.

To put it simply, some people have better cognitive reserve than others and are able to protect their brains from disease, including dementia. It can be explained by neuroplasticity, i. e., different parts of the brain are able to reproduce the same function, so in case of damage to one region, the function would be rerouted to another healthy region.  People with greater cognitive reserve are more likely to make this kind of “switch” and, thus, stay cognitively fit. 

Education, higher levels of social interaction and working in cognitively demanding occupations are considered evaluation measures of CR.  However, emerging evidence has suggested that CR is an active construct that develops from continued life experiences. One reserve enhancing factor during a certain period alone could not fully explain the accumulation of cognitive activities over the life course. 

A study published in june 2019 in JAMA Neurology journal has verified the hypothesis that high lifespan CR accumulation is associated with a reduction in clinical dementia risk and has estimated the strength of this association in the presence of brain pathologies.

The authors concluded that a high CR indicator throughout life- encompassing education, early life, mid life, and late life cognitive activities, and social activities in late life –  is associated with a reduction in dementia risk, even in people presenting many signs of  Alzheimer’s disease and vascular pathologies in their brain image examination.

These findings provide more evidence that high CR is a protective factor against dementia. It also shows that accumulative educational and mentally stimulating activities to enhance CR, should be continually encouraged throughout life and might be a feasible strategy to prevent dementia.

If you want to know more about this interesting ability of the human brain and find out how to improve your cognitive reserve, visit the KsD webpage. You can protect your brain and prevent AD!


Cognitive reserve is the ability of the brain to tolerate damage resulting from aging, AD or other causes of dementia. The higher the CR, the less likely a person is to develop symptoms of dementia, even in the presence of brain pathological injury. The CR can be improved by mentally stimulating and social activities that promote neuroplasticity and improve cognitive function. New evidence shows that these cognitive stimulating measures should be done throughout life, not only for a period of time, in order to build a strong “lifespan” cognitive reserve. A high cognitive reserve can protect your brain and avoid the symptoms of AD!


Xu H, Yang R, Qi X, et al. Association of Lifespan Cognitive Reserve Indicator With Dementia Risk in the Presence of Brain Pathologies. JAMA Neurol. 2019;76(10):1184–1191

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