Cognitive reserve and cognitive function in healthy older people: a meta-analysis

Neuropsychol Dev Cogn B Aging Neuropsychol Cogn. 2016;23(1):40-60. doi: 10.1080/13825585.2015.1041450. Epub 2015 May 1.


The associations between proxy measures of cognitive reserve (CR) and cognition vary across studies and cognitive domains. This meta-analysis aimed to assess the relationship between CR and cognition in multiple domains (memory, executive function, visuospatial ability, and language). CR was considered in terms of three key proxy measures - educational level, occupational status, and engagement in cognitively stimulating activities - individually and in combination. One-hundred and thirty-five studies representing 128,328 participants were included. Of these, 109 used a measure of education, 19 used a measure of occupation, 31 used a measure of participation in cognitively stimulating activities, and 6 used a combination of these. All three proxy measures had a modest positive association with cognition; occupational status and cognitive activities showed the most variation across cognitive domains. This supports the view that the commonly used proxy measures of CR share an underlying process but that each additionally provides a unique contribution to CR.

Keywords: cognitively stimulating leisure activities; education; executive function; language; memory; occupational status; visuospatial ability.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / psychology*
  • Cognitive Reserve*
  • Executive Function
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Memory
  • Space Perception