University of Tasmania

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Increasing cognitive reserve in older adults attending university enhances language capacity, but not executive function, episodic memory, or working memory: The Tasmanian Healthy Brain Projec

conference contribution
posted on 2023-05-24, 14:45 authored by Saunders, NLJ, Thow, M, Mathew SummersMathew Summers, James VickersJames Vickers

Background: The strong link between education and cognitive performance suggests that a period of education in later-life could enhance cognitive function. This is suggested as a nonpharmacological approach to reduce age-related cognitive decline and protect against AD.

Methods: Changes in episodic memory, working memory, executive function and language processing in older adults participating over four years in the Tasmanian Healthy Brain Project (THBP) were examined. The annual cognitive performance of 459 participants enrolled in the THBP were examined. We compared a previously identified group of participants who undertook university study and demonstrated increased cognitive reserve (CR) (intervention) against a group who did not engage in further education and did not display a change in CR (control).

Results: Multiple group Latent Growth Curve Modelling revealed no significant group differences in the trajectory of scores in episodic memory, working memory or executive function between the two groups. However, the intervention group had significantly better performance at baseline relative to controls for language processing (Figure 1). Further, the intervention group displayed a significant improvement in language processing over time, with the control group remaining stable.

Conclusions: In a group of older adults with improved cognitive reserve resulting from attending university, we found that there is a commensurate improvement in language processing capacity over time but no improvement was detected in episodic memory, working memory or executive function. These results suggest that complex mental stimulation that triggers improved cognitive reserve also enhances language processing capacity but no improvement to other cognitive functions. These results suggest that enhancement of CR in older adult’s leads to improved crystallised cognitive abilities but no improvement to fluid cognitive abilities. It remains possible that over an extended period of time differences may emerge in these other cognitive domains reflecting a decrease in the rate of age-related cognitive decline.


National Health & Medical Research Council



Wicking Dementia Research Education Centre

Event title

IPA International Congress –Balancing Cure with Care: Advances in Late Life Mental Health

Event Venue

Berlin, Germany

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Socio-economic Objectives

Health related to ageing

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