by Karen D. Sullivan, PhD, ABPP
Cognitive reserve is an important multi-dimensional concept that is beneficial to understand for preserving the health of your brain for as long as possible. It provides the best chance for fighting back against normal brain aging and age-associated brain disorders, like dementia.
Cognitive reserve is an evidence-based idea proposed by Columbia University neuropsychologist Dr. Yaakov Stern in the mid 1990s. It was inspired by a series of autopsy studies that revealed advanced pathological symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease (amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles) in the brains of some subjects who did not show symptoms of the disease in real life. Researchers initially thought this was due to a type of physical brain reserve after realizing that the people had larger brains than their counterparts. This was based on the assumption that they had more brain cells to lose and could, therefore, tolerate more brain disease before they showed the effects in life.