Why do some people with amyloid plaques in their brains associated with Alzheimer’s disease show no signs of the disease, while others with the same amount of plaque have clear memory and thinking problems?
Scientists from Brighton and Sussex Medical School in the UK found some life course factors that may help create a “cognitive reserve” that provides a buffer against cognitive decline.
They found that factors such as taking part in clubs, religious groups, sports, or artistic activities, along with educational attainment by age 26, occupation, and reading ability, may affect the brain’s cognitive reserve.
The research was published in Neurology and was conducted by Dorina Cadar et al.
In the study, the team examined 1,184 people who were born in 1946 in the United Kingdom. They took cognitive tests when they were eight years old and again when they were 69 years old.
A cognitive reserve index combined people’s education level at age 26, participation in enriching leisure activities at age 43 and occupation up to age 53.
Their reading ability at age 53 was also tested as a measure of overall lifelong learning separate from education and occupation.
The cognitive test participants took at age 69 has a maximum total score of 100. The average score for this group was 92, with the lowest score being 53 and the highest score being 100.
The researchers found that higher childhood cognitive skills, a higher cognitive reserve index, and higher reading ability were all associated with higher scores on the cognitive test at age 69.
Researchers found that for every unit increase in childhood test scores, the old-age cognitive test score increased by 0.10 points on average.
For every unit increase in the cognitive reserve index, cognitive scores increased by 0.07 points on average, and for every unit increase in reading ability, cognitive scores increased by 0.22 points on average.
People with a bachelor’s degree or other higher education qualifications scored 1.22 points more on average than those with no formal education.
People who engaged in six or more leisure activities such as adult education classes, clubs, volunteer work, social activities, and gardening scored 1.53 points more on average than people who engaged in up to four leisure activities.
Those with a professional or intermediate level job scored 1.5 points more on average than those with partly skilled or unskilled occupations.
The study also found that for people with a higher cognitive reserve index and reading ability, their scores on cognitive tests did not decline as rapidly as people with lower scores, regardless of their test scores at age eight.
The study suggests that continuing to learn over a lifetime may help protect the brain.
If you care about brain health, please read studies about how to prevent cognitive decline, and commonly used mental drugs may harm cognitive functions.
For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about a healthier heart linked to better cognitive functions, and results showing these painkillers may increase fall risk in people with cognitive decline.
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