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Cognitive reserve and resilience: A defining moment for an emerging field

Molly Wagster
Chief, Behavioral and Systems Neuroscience Branch,
Division of Neuroscience (DN)
Jon King
Jonathan W. KING,
Senior Scientific Advisor to the Division Director,
Division of Behavioral and Social Research (DBSR)

The human body has an impressive degree of adaptability in response to age-related health challenges. For example, some individuals have the capacity to maintain thinking and cognitive abilities in the presence of measurable Alzheimer’s disease-related brain pathology.

This ability is naturally a subject of intense investigator curiosity and has inspired many research papers. In those articles, the phenomenon has become known by a few different names, including cognitive reserve or cognitive resilience, but a lack of consistency in nomenclature has proved to be problematic and confusing for the field.

Forming a framework for a common language

To address this confusion and move related research forward more clearly and coherently, NIA awarded a network grant to a team of investigators to develop operational definitions, uniform nomenclature, and validated approaches for studying cognitive reserve, cognitive resilience, and related concepts.

In April, the team published the culmination of years of effort to arrive at a framework for exploring these constructs and establishing new consensus definitions for important terms, such as cognitive reserve, brain maintenance, and brain reserve. The scientific team’s Reserve and Resilience website offers a wealth of research resources, thanks to the team’s rigor and clarity from using the same language.

We encourage investigators in the field to review the report and acquaint themselves with the agreed-upon terminology. Also keep an eye on the Reserve and Resilience website for updates on the fourth Workshop on Data Sharing for the Study of Reserve and Resilience to be held later this year.

If you are interested in further exploring cognitive reserve and resilience, visit NIA’s Resilience and Aging web page for an overview of related efforts and funding opportunities. If you have questions or comments about the new framework for this growing field, leave a note below!

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