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What Is Cognitive Reserve?

Cognitive Reserve is the idea that someone’s individual brain may be able to deal with brain changes better because of a better brain network, or cognitive reserve. We can affect our brain network because of neuroplasticity: brains are able to change and adapt as a result of the environment and circumstances they are exposed to.

The better your cognitive reserve, the better your brain network can compensate for brain changes. When people have a bigger cognitive reserve, brain changes may affect someone less.


If there is a problem on a road (The Red X’s) in each city, City B will be more affected because there are less “backup” routes. Even with the same road affected, City B will notice more of a change / challenge compared to City A. In the same way, those with a higher cognitive reserve (like City A) may be able to “re-route” or compensate when the brain has changes.

Reference: Stern, Y. (2013). Cognitive reserve in ageing and alzheimer’s disease. Lancet Neurol., 11(11), 1006-1012.

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