Your cognitive reserve is a phenomenon that stems from neuropsychology. It represents the ability of brain structures to respond to the loss of certain brain functions. In addition, it helps to absorb other negative influences. In other words, your cognitive reserve is your brain’s ability to respond functionally to disease, aging, and decline. This ability allows the brain to compensate to some extent for the damage it has suffered.
Thus, a high level of cognitive reserve can allow the brain to function reasonably normally despite possible disease(s). It also allows the brain to remain fully active even after natural age-related decline. As you can see, it is a very important ability that is well worth promoting.
The origin of your cognitive reserve
Your cognitive reserve is formed in the womb during brain development. The immense influence of one’s experiences in the first year of life on this reserve is well known. These experiences largely define the course that the development of intelligence will take.
There is reason to believe that genetic factors influence the formation of your cognitive reserve. However, this has not been definitively established. There are ways to stimulate a brain to increase its capabilities over the years. Such growth is possible even after brain damage.
Intellectual, leisure and sports activities have a proven ability to increase your cognitive reserve. Reading, mind sports, learning a new language, dancing, sports, and other intellectually stimulating activities are all particularly helpful.
Stimulating your cognitive reserve
When your cognitive reserve is in good shape, your brain is able to make new connections between neurons. It can also replace damaged connections in this way. This process is much easier for those who performed the following activities or possessed the following properties before the damage:
- High cultural level. A vague concept, but it encompasses a lot. Think of all the studies followed, a lot of reading and intellectually stimulating activities. This includes visits to museums, watched documentaries, and so on.
- Social relations. Scientists have proven that those who have the support of a strong social circle and interact with it often are 38% less likely to develop dementia over time.
- exercise. This promotes blood circulation in the brain and protects it against oxygen deficiency. It also prevents brain aging. Simple walks are enough for this!
- Mental sports. This clearly affects the cognitive reserve. This includes playing an instrument, intellectual hobbies (puzzling, chess, word games, etc.).
- Healthy diet. Smoking, drinking, psychoactive substances (drugs) and an unhealthy diet should be avoided.
A surprising experiment
David Snowdon, an epidemiologist and neurology professor at the University of Kentucky, conducted an impressive study in 1986. He started with a group of 678 Catholic nuns from the United States. It was a very uniform group: they ate the same food, lived in the same environment and performed the same activities.
He documented their cognitive reserve for 17 years. During this period, the nuns were regularly tested. For example, information was collected about their genes, intellect and psychological functioning. They all accepted that their brains would be studied after death to supplement the information from the study.
Sister Bernadette’s case was the most notable. She died at the age of 85 years. Her brain was—as mentioned—examined after her death. During this post-mortem study, it was discovered that she had Alzheimer’s disease. However, she did not show any symptoms of this. The researchers therefore concluded that her cognitive reserve had compensated for her physiological deficits.
The researchers also discovered something else that was very interesting. The nuns with broad vocabularies had less cognitive decline. That vocabulary, in turn, arose from their reading habits in their youth.
This experiment is one of the most compelling pieces of evidence that favors the cognitive reserve. Intellectual, social and physical activity are excellent ways to reduce the natural decline of our cognitive functions.