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How Cognitive Reserve Protects You From Cognitive Decline

Cognitive reserve is an important part of the brain's defense mechanism. It helps you stay mentally capable by acting as a buffer between your functional abilities and biology.

This is important because as you age, your brain naturally goes through changes that can sometimes cause problems with memory, thinking, and problem-

solving. Additionally, some people may develop neurodegenerative diseases, such as mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, or related dementias.

Cognitive reserve protects you from losing your mental capacities through two general pathways. The first of these involves physically delaying the effects of brain aging and pathology. The second involves developing compensatory skills to preserve your outward abilities in the presence of biological changes.

By keeping your body healthy, brain active, and organizational systems maintained throughout life, you can build up cognitive reserve and shield yourselves from cognitive decline.

How do you build cognitive reserve?

1. Intellectual Stimulation

Learning new things is essential. It’s easy to stick to what you already do well, but the old saying holds true: Use it or lose it. Maintaining brain cells is energetically expensive, and your brain is efficient. It maintains the parts of the brain that you use. Don’t know where to start? Try reading a book, playing a new game, or developing your organizational skills.

2. Physical Wellness

Consistent exercise, proper nutrition, and quality sleep are essential for preserving brain health. First, regular exercise, such as brisk walking, jogging, or cycling, has been linked to better cognitive function and a lower risk of cognitive decline. Aim for at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week, along with two sessions of strength training.

Secondly, maintain a well-balanced diet rich in fiber and healthy fats. This can help optimize brain health and manage cardiovascular and diabetic risk factors, which are essential for your brain's well-being.

Lastly, ensure you get enough quality sleep. During sleep, your brain processes information, clears out waste, and restores energy. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night to support optimal brain function.

3. Social Engagement

Social engagement plays a significant role in maintaining cognitive reserve. Examples include regular social interactions such as involvement in community organizations aligned with personal interests, and participating in group exercise classes. The key is in selecting activities that motivate you, and then integrating them into your daily life. Conversely, social isolation increases the risk of cognitive impairment.

4. Cognitive Education

To achieve optimal outcomes, consider professional support. A great way to gain intellectual stimulation, develop compensatory skills, adopt brain-healthy habits, and participate in a socially stimulating activity is through a cognitive education program. If you are curious, consider contacting Dr. Karen Miller, Senior Director of the Brain Wellness & Lifestyle Program at Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica. She can assess your cognitive concerns, create a custom plan to improve your brain health and to prevent further decline.

Understanding cognitive reserve empowers you to protect your mental abilities. Take small steps daily.

By Jennifer Bramen, PhD

Bramen, is a clinical neuroscientist with a specialization in neuroimaging. As a Senior Research Scientist at the Pacific Brain Health Center in the Pacific Neuroscience Institute, she is passionate about translating innovative research into real clinical practice. She is focused on life-style change interventions and developing innovative neuroimaging outcomes for dementia care and research. Visit or call 213-566-1270.

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