CogniFit's Science blog: Cognitive Reserve And How It Can Help Us Age Well

Cognitive Reserve And How It Can Help Us Age Well

Does aging always have to be accompanied by declining physical and mental abilities? Not necessarily.

In recent years, circumstantial evidence has been building about how training your brain with stimulating activities can help compensate for the changes that occur with age. Brain training may also allow people to avoid mild cognitive impairment or symptoms of Alzheimer's for far longer than others who haven’t taken the opportunity to make their brains more adaptable and agile through regular mental exercise.

One piece of supporting evidence for this phenomenon comes from autopsies done on the brains elderly people who died without symptoms of memory loss even thought their brains were full of the plaques and tangles thought to cause Alzheimer's disease. It appears that their brains somehow tolerated the damage better than others.

According to Yaakov Stern, a neuropsychologist at Columbia University, the explanation is that our brains are able to build 'cognitive reserve'. He compares our brain to a telephone network: the more lines you that have connecting different destinations the more likely you will be able to transfer calls via an alternative route even if some of the lines collapse. Whenever you engage in brain-stimulating activities, more neural connections are formed, which reduces the effects of neural loss.

"The research is still in its infancy," says Stern, "But if the epidemiology is true, it suggests that if you could give people the right experiences, you could help them age more successfully."