Seity Collective Wellbeing made simple

22nd march 2023

Aging Gracefully: Boosting Your Cognitive Reserve to Stay Sharp and Resilient


As we grow older, we may notice our memory, reasoning, and learning abilities naturally decline. While many people rely on their daily crossword puzzles to keep their minds sharp, research suggests that simply sticking to such activities isn't enough to improve cognition. Anja Soldan, PhD, an associate professor of neurology at John Hopkins University, advises that exposing yourself to new things, new ideas, and new experiences is what truly benefits the brain.

Building Cognitive Reserve: The Key to a Resilient Brain

Cognitive reserve refers to the backup mental activity that allows your brain to continue functioning well, even when its physical structure is affected by age or neurodegenerative diseases. This concept emerged from a 1989 study that examined the autopsy results of older women who were cognitively healthy but had brains with many plaques typically seen in advanced Alzheimer's patients. Scientists attributed the discrepancy between their physical brains and cognitive health to cognitive reserve.

Though it's not yet fully understood what creates cognitive reserve, researchers believe that factors such as the size of a person's brain, increased brain connectivity, and lifelong engagement in various activities play a role. Below are some activities that may help build cognitive reserve:

Education: More years of education have been linked to a reduced risk of developing dementia and other age-related cognitive decline.

Leisure and social activities: Engaging in cognitively, socially, or physically stimulating activities, such as spending time with friends or family, reading, going out to restaurants, walking, or vacationing, can be beneficial.

Stimulating work: Occupations that involve decision-making, problem-solving, creative thinking, or coaching and mentoring others may protect against rapid cognitive decline during retirement.

A balanced diet: Consuming a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, whole grains, and healthy fats may benefit cognitive function later in life.

Bilingualism: Learning multiple languages may help build cognitive reserve, though research on this topic is conflicting. The benefits likely depend on factors such as language proficiency, frequency of use, and code-switching.

The Science Behind Cognitive Reserve

The exact mechanisms by which these activities potentially benefit cognitive reserve are still being investigated. However, some hypotheses include increasing brain connectivity, strengthening neuronal connections, or improving neurotransmitter functioning.

Ultimately, while completing your daily crossword puzzle may bring enjoyment, it's crucial to remain engaged—physically, cognitively, and socially—throughout your life. By nurturing your cognitive reserve, you can age gracefully and maintain a resilient, sharp mind well into your golden years.