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Does cognitive reserve reduce dementia risk?

A recent study assessed the potential of a correlation between lifespan cognitive reserve and the risk of developing dementia while taking brain pathologies into account.

Lifespan cognitive reserve is a crucial aspect of brain function and cognitive behaviour. As individuals experience life, the brain develops mechanisms to cope with challenging situations involving stress, tension, and medical difficulties. Researchers have found that individuals with a strong lifespan cognitive reserve are better protected from symptoms of cognitive decline despite having brain pathologies that coincide with those medical conditions. As a result, a Chinese study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association researched the correlation between cognitive reserve and dementia risk while considering brain pathology.

Data was collected from a sample size of 1602 individuals who participated in the Rush Memory and Aging Project, that spanned 1997 to 2018. The authors excluded participants who exhibited the following medical history or characteristics: lack of data pertaining to the individual’s cognitive reserve and noted prevalence of dementia. Cognitive reserve was quantified using a lifespan cognitive reserve score that was calculated based on factors including cognitive activities, social activities, and education. Brain pathologies of the participants were recorded, and associations were determined through statistical analyses.

At baseline, the mean age of the participants was 79.6 years with a standard deviation of 7.5 years. The majority of the individuals in the sample size were women. 386 of the participants were diagnosed with dementia at the time of the follow-up. 92 percent of those dementia cases were associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers concluded that despite adjusting for brain pathologies, lifespan cognitive reserve was significantly correlated with dementia risk. Those with a higher lifespan cognitive reserve score had lower dementia risk. These results applied to participants who were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s associated dementia as well as other forms of dementia.

This study identifies the significance of a valuable component of cognitive health, the cognitive reserve. Many medical conditions that target the human brain are difficult to treat due to various factors such as complexity, cost, time, and invasiveness of procedures. With further research and a better understanding of the cognitive reserve, medical professionals can utilize this mechanism developed within the human anatomy itself, to better address cognitive decline issues, particularly within the elderly.


Written by Shrishti Ahuja



Xu, H., Yang, R., Qi, X., Dintica, C., Song, R., Bennett, D. A., & Xu, W. (2019). Association of Lifespan Cognitive Reserve Indicator With Dementia Risk in the Presence of Brain Pathologies. JAMA Neurology. doi: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2019.2455

EurekAlert. (n.d.). Study examines association of cognitive reserve accumulated over lifetime with dementia risk. Retrieved from

Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). What is cognitive reserve? Retrieved from


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Shrishti Ahuja BSc
Shrishti Ahuja BSc
Shrishti is currently working towards her HBSc degree in Medical Science and English Literature from Western University. She enjoys taking on challenging opportunities that allow her to communicate complex scientific concepts to a variety of audiences. Along with the Medical News Bulletin, she is actively involved in the orientation program at her university, is part of a dance team, and enjoys travelling.


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