Cognitive reserve and brain maintenance in aging and dementia: an integrative review

Gabriela Alvares Pereira*, Maria Vânia Silva Nunes, Patricia Alzola, Israel Contador

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


This research is an integrative review of scientific evidence differentiating between cognitive reserve (CR) and brain maintenance concepts. Thus, we have examined how CR socio-behavioral proxies (i.e. education, occupational attainment, and leisure activities) may help to cope with age-related cognitive decline and negative consequences of brain pathology. We also analyze lifestyle factors associated with brain maintenance or the relative absence of change in neural resources over time. Medline and Web of Science databases were used for the bibliographic search in the last 20 years. Observational cohort studies were selected to analyze the effect of different CR proxies on cognitive decline, including dementia incidence, whereas studies employing functional neuroimaging (fMRI) were used to display the existence of compensation mechanisms. Besides, structural MRI studies were used to test the association between lifestyle factors and neural changes. Our findings suggest that education, leisure activities, and occupational activity are protective factors against cognitive decline and dementia. Moreover, functional neuroimaging studies have verified the existence of brain networks that may underlie CR. Therefore, CR may be expressed either through a more efficient utilization (neural reserve) of brain networks or the recruitment of additional brain regions (compensation). Finally, lifestyle factors such as abstaining from smoking, lower alcohol consumption, and physical activity contributed to brain maintenance and were associated with the preservation of cognitive function. Advances in multimodal neuroimaging studies, preferably longitudinal design, will allow a better understanding of the neural mechanisms associated with the prevention of cognitive decline and preservation of neural resources in aging.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1615-1625
Number of pages11
JournalApplied Neuropsychology:Adult
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Brain maintenance
  • Cognitive aging
  • Cognitive reserve
  • Dementia
  • Neuroimaging
  • Socio-behavioral proxies


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