The Protective Effects of Cognitive Reserve

Paris — President Sarkozy addressed the international community of Alzheimer’s disease researchers, clinicians and scientists today at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. His speech highlighted France’s commitment to addressing the clinical, social and research challenges posed by Alzheimer’s disease. His ambitious program of federal funding, infrasucture and personnel support serves as an international model for a comprehensive approach to the needs of patients and caregivers affected by Alzheimer’s disease. View the address >>

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Cognitive reserve is a term typically applied to the protective effect that increased educational attainment, intellectual activity, social engagement, etc., have on the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Riccardo Marioni, PhD, of the University of Cambridge has performed a sophisticated statistical modeling using data from over 13,000 participants. In his analysis, higher educational attainment was associated with a decreased risk of mild cognitive impairment and an increased likelihood of reverting from mild cognitive impairment to normal; however, it was also associated with an increased rate of decline (from dementia to death in his model). The associations were the same for those who have a more complex mid-life occupation.

Social engagement associated differently. There was a decreased risk of converting from mild cognitive impairment to dementia. This could be interpereted as a slower decline to more severe dementia.

These first two findings seem to confirm the model of cognitive reserve. The latter finding emphasizes the important positive effects of remaining intellectually active and socially engaged throughout the lifespan.

Physical activity is widely recognized as reducing the risk of dementia and decreasing the risk of conversion from mild cognitive impairment to dementia. Marie-Noel Vercambre, PhD, of Harvard University presented results that demonstrated this benefit in a group of older women having known cardiovascular disease.

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