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Build Your Cognitive Reserve: An Interview with Dr. Yaakov Stern

Yaakov SternDr. Yaakov Stern is the Division Leader of the Cognitive Neuroscience Division of the Sergievsky Center, and Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology, at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, New York. Alvaro Fernandez interviews him here as part of our research for The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness book.

Dr. Stern is one of the leading proponents of the Cognitive reserve theory, which aims to explain why some individuals with full Alzheimer’s pathology (accumulation of plaques and tangles in their brains) can keep normal lives until they die, while others -with the same amount of plaques and tangles- display the severe symptoms we associate with Alzheimer’s Disease. He has published dozens of peer-reviewed scientific papers on the subject.

The concept of a Cognitive Reserve has been around since 1989, when a post mortem analysis of 137 people with Alzheimer’s Disease showed that some patients exhibited fewer clinical symptoms than their actual pathology suggested. These patients also showed higher brain weights and greater number of neurons when compared to age-matched controls. The investigators hypothesized that the patients had a larger “reserve” of neurons and abilities that enable them to offset the losses caused by Alzheimer’s. Since then, the concept of Cognitive Reserve has been defined as the ability of an individual to tolerate progressive brain pathology without demonstrating clinical cognitive symptoms. (You can check at the end of this interview a great clip on this).

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Key take-aways

– Lifetime experiences, like education, engaging occupation, and leisure activities, have been shown to have a major influence on how we age, specifically on whether we will develop Alzheimer’s symptoms or not.

– This is so because stimulating activities, ideally combining physical exercise, learning and social interaction, help us build a Cognitive Reserve to protect us.

– The earlier we start building our Reserve, the better; but it is never too late to start. And, the more activities, the better: the effect is cumulative.

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The Cognitive Reserve

Alvaro Fernandez (AF): Dear Dr. Stern, it is a pleasure to have you here. Let me first ask you this: the implications of your research are pretty broad, presenting major implications across sectors and age groups. What has been the most unexpected reaction so far?

YS: well…I was pretty surprised when Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Health for lawyers

The Complete Lawyer, a legal publication distributed to bar members in several states, just published an article on Ten Important Truths About Aging: How we age is at least partially under our control, By Elkhonon Goldberg and Alvaro Fernandez.

We were happy to contribute to the ongoing debate about ethics and aging in the legal profession, building on our previous post on the topic.

What are those “Ten Truths”? Well, here you are the outline:

Keep Your Brain Nimble as You Age and Brain Fitness Events

Some good links today:

1) Keep Your Brain Nimble as You Age
MSNBC – May 13, 2007
“If using your computer as a mental gym sounds good to you, SharpBrains.com’s Fernandez suggests asking a few questions first to determine a product’s…”

2) Great blog by Stanford Business School’s Jackson library, including an announcement of an upcoming lecture there by our very own Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg and Alvaro Fernandez Pumping I.Q., not Iron

3) Some blog carnivals (collections of blog posts around specific topics)

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