The 'cognitive reserve' hypothesis states that brains with cognitive reserve can avoid symptoms of dementia despite enduring the physical deterioration that seems to cause the disease in other individuals. Studies show that people with similar levels of cognitive functioning can have very different levels of brain deterioration. Those with great deterioration and high functioning are said to have great cognitive reserve.
Two groups of factors are thought to influence cognitive reserve. The first is baseline cognitive ability. This is measured by early childhood intelligence and is primarily determined by genetic factors. The second group of factors determines the rate of cognitive decline . Lifestyle factors such as education, higher occupation, social interactions, and physical activity seem delay the progression of cognitive impairment .
Until recently, it was thought that cognitive decline was an inevitable result of aging. However, it is now clear that some people avoid dementia despite extreme old age. Approximately 30% of centenarians show no cognitive decline and 90% of those with dementia show delayed cognitive impairment.
Those who avoid dementia fall into two categories. Firstly, there are those whose brains show little sign of physical deterioration and who also exhibit no signs of dementia. Secondly, there are those cases where patients brains meet the classifications of Alzheimer's disease but who show no signs of dementia.
People may be able to control their susceptibility to Alzheimer's disease and dementia by regulating the lifestyle factors associated with cognitive reserve. Leading a life rich in mentally challenging tasks, social interactions, and physical activity may help you avoid or delay cognitive impairment.
Published research on this topic:
Cognitive Reserve and the Neurobiology of Cognitive Aging.
Whalley LJ, Deary IJ, Appleton CL, Starr JM. Ageing Res Rev. 2004 3: 369-382.
An Active and Socially Integrated Lifestyle in Late Life Might Protect Against Dementia.
Fratiglioni L, Paillard-Borg S, Winblad B. Lancet 2004 3: 343-53.
Centenarians who Avoid Dementia. See Also:
Perls T. Trends in Neuroscience 2004 27(10): 633-6.
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