It is a concept that originated in the late 1980s. It all started with a revealing study. Scientists analyzed the brains of a group of people. What did they find? That they had changes typical of having suffered from advanced Alzheimer’s disease. However, during their lifetime, these individuals showed no symptoms of the disease. To understand the reason, it is necessary to know what cognitive reserve is.
It is “a kind of property” that we have as a product of experience. Manuel Vázquez Marrufo, professor at the University of Seville, explains. “It protects us against the lesions that are occurring in the brain.”
The brain possesses plasticity mechanisms, based on genetic factors. They allow us to compensate when we suffer, for example, an injury or trauma. This is called cerebral reserve, related to the brain’s capacity to generate new neurons.
For its part, the cognitive reserve is the one that accumulates through our daily activities. It has more to do with the cognitive activity that has been developed since birth.
“For the same brain damage in two patients with equal brain reserve, the patient with greater cognitive reserve will be able to tolerate the damage better. The clinical manifestations are slowed down.”
In 1986, a young epidemiologist named David Snowdon did another study. It involved 700 nuns. It was called the Nun Study. Cognitive and memory tests were done every year.
“Sister Mary, the gold standard for the Nuns’ Study, was a remarkable woman. She had a high cognitive test score before her death at 101 years of age. But she had all the classic lesions of Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Snowdon wrote. “Those sisters who used more complex sentences and ideas were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s.”
In 2017, an international study commissioned by the prestigious scientific journal The Lancet found the same.
Studied individuals who continue learning or training throughout life. They were more likely to develop additional cognitive reserves.
It is vital to have activities that make us exercise our memory, attention, language. “That protects us from the natural cognitive decline that occurs with aging,” says the academic.
Now that we know what cognitive reserve is, let’s look for activities to strengthen it. What is recommended? Reading, learning new things, having a social life, and not falling into routines.