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Cognitive Reserve – Can We Beat Biology?

Cognitive Reserve – Can We Beat Biology?

We know we are living longer — but are we living better?  Most would agree that it is not just about adding more years to our life story, it is about making sure those years enriching and rewarding.   Too often, though, we know of friends and family who struggle with cognitive decline as they transition into later years.  Is it inevitable?  Why is it that some individuals seem to navigate this progression better than others?  Is there a secret to stalling or even overcoming cognitive decline?   In the late 1980s, researchers noticed an interesting anomaly.  Some individuals, with significant brain pathology, did not evidence a commensurate decline in overall cognitive functioning while they were alive.  Others, with less brain pathology, showed much greater challenges in their day to day functional capacities.  Clearly, brain pathology in and of itself was not directly associated with the behavioral expression of cognitive function.   This led to the study of ‘Cognitive Reserve.’  Cognitive Reserve (CR) refers to the mind’s resistance to damage to the brain.  Some brains are just better able to compensate for damage, and to establish alternative and efficient ways to ‘get the job done.’    Those with higher CR can endure more advanced stages of dementia before their lives are impacted by the disease progression.   Can we Increase our CR?   Much more research needs to be done to determine the factors that contribute toward higher CR.    Some believe that genetics does in fact influence overall cognitive function, but has a lessor relationship with memory.   While some studies show an association between brain size and...