Active Mind

What is cognitive reserve?

October 28, 2020

Cognitive reserve is the idea that some people develop a bank of thinking abilities during their lives that they can draw on as their brain declines.

Much as saving for a rainy day can help when the going gets tough financially, a person’s cognitive reserve helps them cope with the damage done by ageing or dementia.

The concept helps explain why when two people have the same amount of damage to their brain, one can have symptoms of Alzheimer’s while the other remains mentally sharp.

Banking brainpower for a rainy day

The good news is that cognitive reserve isn’t set but is built up through our lives. Education, jobs, socialising and hobbies – even those taken up later in life – can all contribute.

It’s not clear why life experiences boost the brain’s resilience but one idea is that by constantly challenging the brain they make it work more efficiently. This makes it easier for the brain deal with any disease and or deterioration that hits it.

Someone with a greater cognitive reserve may also find it easier to switch to an alternative brain network when the one they usually use declines.

How important is it?

Studies suggest that keeping your mind active throughout life can cut your risk of Alzheimer’s by as much as 40%. While it doesn’t mean you won’t get dementia, you may enjoy more healthy years before it develops.