School of Philosophy, Psychology & Language Sciences

Age and literacy may protect against loss of cognitive function

The lifestyle factors that help protect us against dementia may also help prevent brain damage caused by strokes

The new study was carried out by a team of researchers led by Dr Sarah MacPherson, a senior lecturer in Psychology at the University of Edinburgh, and Professor Lisa Cipolotti, National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery London, and University of Palermo.

By investigating the Cognitive Reserve Hypothesis (which proposes that certain life experiences have been found to reduce the effects of age and protect against dementia) they found that Cognitive Reserve is a multidimensional construct that also affects performance on other cognitive measures.

The research investigated whether the factors that have been found to make older people more resilient to changes in the brain from ageing or dementia – such as a high level of education or engaging in activities such as reading books, walking, or visiting friends – could also protect against damage to thinking skills following brain tumours or strokes.

Participants undertook a series of neuropsychological tests assessing reasoning; executive functions such as response initiation and inhibition; working memory; naming and processing speed; and whether literacy and education levels predicted performance.

“Our study suggests that both younger age and higher literacy attainment can protect against executive dysfunction, which, in turn, may affect long term cognitive outcomes. As a result, we suggest that age and literacy attainment are considered when deciding whether individuals should be included in cognitive rehabilitation programmes.”

Professor Lisa CipolottiUniversity College London

The findings are particularly relevant for cognitive rehabilitation as there is a lack of reliable indicators that predict cognitive outcomes in stroke and brain tumour patients.

Visit Neuropsychologia to read Cognitive reserve and cognitive performance of patients with focal frontal lesions in full.