Neural Plasticity and Cognitive Reserve

Zahra Bardai, BSc, MD, CCFP, MHSc, FCFP, Community Family Physician, Lecturer, University of Toronto, Assistant Clinical Professor (Adjunct), Department of Family Medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON.

Neural plasticity in the context of normal aging and dementia can be evaluated on a number of levels. Traditionally there has been much focus on cellular dysfunction, which is evidenced by the plaques and tangles that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer type dementia. Now, more than ever, there is an emerging spotlight on the preservation of functional levels despite failing cognition be it from normal aging, mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or diagnosed dementia. Neural plasticity can be viewed as the complex interaction between the neurons' electrical, biochemical and physical structure and the individual's behavioural, psychological and sociological activities.1 This article will briefly review the neurobiology of cognition and the sequence of events that lead to its demise. The remainder of this review concentrates on tangible, evidence based strategies to uphold clinical cognition through the aging process.
Keywords: neural plasticity, aging, dementia, cognition, neurons.

…there were neurons in her head, not far from her ears, that were being strangled to death, too quietly for her to hear them. Some would argue that things were going so insidiously wrong that the neurons themselves initiated events that would lead to their own destruction. Whether it was molecular murder or cellular suicide, they were unable to warn her of what was happening before they died.

-Still Alice
Lisa Genova