Neuroprotective effects of cognitive enrichment

Ageing Res Rev. 2006 Aug;5(3):354-69. doi: 10.1016/j.arr.2006.04.004. Epub 2006 Sep 1.


Cognitive enrichment early in life, as indicated by level of education, complexity of work environment or nature of leisure activities, appears to protect against the development of age-associated cognitive decline and also dementia. These effects are more robust for measures of crystallized intelligence than for measures of fluid intelligence and depend on the ability of the brain to compensate for pathological changes associated with aging. This compensatory ability is referred to as cognitive reserve. The cognitive reserve hypothesis suggests that cognitive enrichment promotes utilization of available functions. Alternatively, late life cognitive changes in cognition may be linked to a factor, such as cholinergic dysfunction, that is also present early in life and contributes to the reduced levels of early life cognitive enrichment. Beneficial effects of environmental enrichment early in life have also been observed in rodents and primates. Research with rodents indicates that these changes have structural correlates, which likely include increased synapses in specific brain regions. Dogs also show age-dependent cognitive decline, and both longitudinal and cross-sectional studies indicate that this decline can be attenuated by cognitive enrichment. Furthermore, cognitive enrichment has differential effects, improving some functions more than others. From a neurobiological perspective, behavioral enrichment in the dog may act to promote neurogenesis later in life. This can be distinguished from nutritional interventions with antioxidants, which appear to attenuate the development of neuropathology. These results suggest that a combination of behavioral and nutritional or pharmacological interventions may be optimal for reducing the rate of age-dependent cognitive decline.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging* / physiology
  • Animals
  • Cognition Disorders / physiopathology
  • Cognition Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Cognition* / physiology
  • Educational Status
  • Humans
  • Intelligence
  • Social Environment