Cognitive reserve is the idea that each brain has a resilience against the effects of aging and disease.
This concept arose in the late 1980s when autopsies showed that people who seemingly had no symptoms of dementia or memory loss had significant brain damage (damage associated with advanced stage Alzheimer's).
This raised an important question – why do some people experience the symptoms of brain damage and neurodegenerative disease significantly more than others? In other words, there doesn’t seem to be a direct link between the level of brain damage and cognitive impairment.
It's a case of cognitive adaptation
Similar to having extra money reserved in a bank for a ‘rainy day’, some people may develop neural-related reserves in their brains over their lives which helps the brain become more resilient.
Some people's neural networks are therefore better at adapting when dealing with changes in the brain, whether it is neurodegenerative disease or even unexpected life events causing change in the brain, such as stress.
How do you develop cognitive reserve?
While genetics may play a role, research suggests lifestyle is a large factor in developing cognitive reserve. Factors such as education, regular exercise and engaging in cognitively complex tasks (such as laying a musical instrument or learning a language) improve cognitive reserve.
Improve your neuroplasticity
Engaging in cognitively demanding activities, such as education, improves neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to modulate its function and structure in response to different experiences. Engaging in cognitively demanding activities and exercise also improve the connections within the brain. Research suggests that it is by strengthening these connections and neuroplasticity helps the brain develop more cognitive reserve.
How does tDCS relate to cognitive reserve?
Transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) is a technology which applies a weak electrical current to specific areas of the brain, enhancing the ability to absorb new information and form new connections in the brain.
This safe neurostimulation technology has been used in academic research for a long time but is becoming more accessible for individual users outside of a research setting.
Research suggests that tDCS has a positive effect on cognitive training in activities requiring memory, particularly when used with an aging population.
Moreover, research also suggests that repeated use of the technology in cognitive tasks helps improve neuroplasticity. From this perspective, it seems that using this technology, when engaging in cognitive tasks, may help to further develop the brain’s cognitive reserve.
Cognitive reserve is notoriously difficult to research as it is more of an abstract concept rather than something directly measurable. Nonetheless, it seems promising that this technology could further improve cognitive reserve.
By understanding the relationship between our lifestyle and the brain, we can become more knowledgeable about how to maximise the potential and the health of our most important organ.
PlatoWork is a consumer device and therefore cannot be recommended as use or treatment for anything otherwise not stated on the website.