Population ageing along with urbanisation and migration are the great demographic definers of our time. While healthy life expectancy is slowly increasing, between 10 to 20% of older people experience some cognitive impairment, and 47 million people live with cognitive impairment severe enough to limit their ability to function in society.
Healthy ageing as defined by World Health Organization’s (WHO) is “the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables older people to do what they value.” Cognition is one of the major predictors of day-to-day functional ability and so new strategies for protecting against cognitive decline and impairment are necessary.
A recent article entitled “Mind Games: Brain Boosters for Older Adults” explores the evidence that engagement in mental activities, not just physical, can have a profound impact on cognitive health. Engaging in mentally rigorous activities such as board games, visual planning games (e.g., Chess), word games and socialization games can all help to build cognitive reserve and protect individuals from cognitive decline and the onset of Dementia and Alzheimer’s.
At the 2019 Copenhagen Summit on Cognitive Reserve Prof Michael Valenzuela, leader of the Regenerative Neuroscience Group at the Brain and Mind Research Institute, University of Sydney referred to cognitive reserve as the “human capacity to decouple cognitive function from the accumulation of brain pathology that is so common as we age,” simply put, cognitive reserve is the brain’s ability to adapt and resist to damage associated with cognitive decline. As stated by Ms Beverly Sanborn, vice president of program development at Belmont Village Senior Living “in order to build this reserve, you must exercise your brain beyond your normal routine.”
The potential for Cognitive Reserve to impact population health cannot be overvalued. A famous quote by George Bernard Shaw states that “We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” In the context of brain health this quote rings true, engaging in cognitively stimulating activities, such as games, as well as a variety of other lifestyle factors including, physical activity and diet can all help individuals build cognitive reserve and actively prevent cognitive decline, reducing the risk of Dementia and Alzheimer’s.
The pervasive belief that cognitive impairment is inevitable in older age is simply untrue. Empowering people of all ages, and especially older people to actively invest in their brain health is crucial to reduce the global burden of dementia, especially as the greatest growth in dementia burden is yet to come and will occur in lower- and middle-income countries.
As part of IFAs ongoing work to help influence and shape policy in cognitive reserve the Presidential Symposium on Brain Health at the IFAs 15th Global Conference entitled “The Treatment for Dementia is Prevention” presents the views of renowned experts in the field of cognitive reserve and neuroscience with clear arguments for an governmental and civil society investment in the conversation on healthy ageing.
To learn more about cognitive reserve, contact IFA expert Prof Michael Valenzuela and register now for the IFA 15th Global Conference on Ageing where Prof Valenzuela will be a featured panelist at the Presential Symposium on Brain Health.
Prof. Michael Valenzuela Associate Professor
Psychology, clinical medicine, and neuroscience expert, exploring how complex mental activity impacts dementia