Cognitive Reserve and Frontotemporal Disorders: Exploring the Relationship Between Education, Physical Activity, and Cognitive Dysfunction in Older Adults

Percept Mot Skills. 2024 Jun;131(3):720-736. doi: 10.1177/00315125241241358. Epub 2024 Mar 25.


In this study we investigated the relationship between cognitive reserve (CR) proxies, such as education, physical activity (PA), and cognitive dysfunction (CD) in the presence or absence of frontotemporal disorders (FTD). Previous research has suggested that education and PA may delay the onset of CD and reduce the risk of developing dementia. However, it remains unclear whether these CR proxies can protect against CD when FTD is present. We aimed to explore this relationship and determine whether sustained CR may be evident regardless of FTD. We recruited 149 older adults (aged 65-99 years) from community centers where they were voluntarily participating in leisure activities. We used bioelectrical impedance to measure their body composition, and we administered the International PA Questionnaire and the Mini-Mental State Examination to measure their PA and cognitive function, respectively. We used the Frontal Assessment Battery to screen for frontotemporal dementia. Our results showed that people with FTD were older, had lower education, and engaged in less PA, relative to other participants. Regression models revealed that age, education, and PA were significant predictors of FTD. More specifically, FTD was negatively associated with cognitive functioning, and there were significant interaction effects between FTD and education and PA. PA and education were significant predictors of cognitive functioning, and, when values for PA and education were high, they offset the effects of FTD on cognitive function. These findings support impressions that PA and years of education provide an insulating or compensatory effect on cognitive functioning in older adults with executive dysfunction or frontotemporal dementia, highlighting the importance of encouraging both pursuits.

Keywords: cognitive dysfunction; cognitive reserve; education; frontotemporal disorder; physical activity.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cognitive Dysfunction*
  • Cognitive Reserve* / physiology
  • Educational Status*
  • Exercise* / physiology
  • Exercise* / psychology
  • Female
  • Frontotemporal Dementia* / psychology
  • Humans
  • Male