Background: Increasing an individual’s level of cognitive reserve (CR) has been suggested as a nonpharmacological approach to reducing an individual’s risk of age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. The Tasmanian Healthy Brain Project (THBP) is a world-first study examining whether healthy older adults who undertake university level education display a measureable increase in current CR when prior levels of CR are controlled for. Methods: We examined annual change in current CR in healthy adults aged 50-79 years across the first 4 years of the THBP. Change in current CR of 358 participants who completed at least 12 months of part-time university study (intervention group) was compared against the change in current CR of 100 participants who did not engage in further education (control group). Results: CR was assessed using two factor analytic derived latent measures of CR previously developed by our group: Prior CR (PCR) and Current CR (CCR). The PCR measure was employed as a covariate and is a composite of proxy measures traditionally associated with CR, including intelligence, education, occupational attainment, and participation in cognitively stimulating leisure activities. CCR is a composite of proxy measures assessing dynamic change in CR arising from exposure to new life experiences, including measures of intelligence and academic ability. Growth Mixture Modelling revealed two subgroups of individuals in both the control and the intervention group. In the intervention group 95.7% of the sample displayed a linear increase in CCR over the first 4 years of the THBP with 4.3% displaying a decrease in CCR. In the control group 23.3% displayed a linear increase in CCR score, with the remaining 76.7% displaying no change in CCR. Conclusions: The results indicate that the majority of healthy older adults who engage in at least part-time university level education for at least 12 months display a measureable increase in CR that is sustained for 4 years, an effect seen in only a minority of age-matched adults who do not engage in university level education. Increasing mental activity in older adulthood may be a viable strategy to improve cognitive function and offset cognitive decline associated with normal aging.
2015 Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC), Washington D C, United States 18-23 July 2015