Cerebral correlates of cognitive reserve

Lawrence J. Whalley, Roger T. Staff, Helen C. Fox, Alison D. Murray

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Cognitive reserve is a hypothetical concept introduced to explain discrepancies between severity of clinical dementia syndromes and the extent of dementia pathology. We examined cognitive reserve in a research programme that followed up a non-clinical sample born in 1921 or 1936 and IQ-tested age 11 years in 1932 or 1947. Structural MRI exams were acquired in about 50% of the sample from whom a subsample were recruited into an additional fMRI study. Here, we summarise findings from seven inter-related studies. These support an understanding of cognitive reserve as a balance between positive life course activity-driven experiences and the negative effects of brain pathologies including cerebrovascular disease and total and regional brain volume loss. Hypothesised structural equation models illustrate the relative causal effects of these positive and negative contributions. Cognitive reserve is considered in the context of choice of interventions to prevent dementia and the opposing effects of cerebrovascular disease and Alzheimer like brain appearances.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-70
Number of pages6
JournalPsychiatry Research
Early online date19 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jan 2016

Bibliographical note

The Aberdeen birth Cohort Studies were established with grants to Lawrence Whalley by the Henry Smith Charity, the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and a Professorial Clinical Fellowship Award from the Wellcome Trust. The imaging studies reported here were supported by grants to all three authors by the Chief Scientist Organisation of the Scottish Health Department and Alzheimer Research UK. We are grateful to the volunteers in the Aberdeen 1921 and 1936 Birth Cohort Studies and to our research colleagues in the Aberdeen biomedical Imaging Centre (Drs. Ahearn, Waiter, and Mustafa) and our long-term collaborators in the University of Edinburgh (Professors Deary and Starr at www.ccace.ed.ac.uk).


  • cognitive reserve
  • childhood IQ
  • white matter hyperintensities
  • functional MRI
  • cortical complexity
  • structural equation modeling
  • cognitive aging
  • Alzheimer's disease


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