When there is a rock in our path, we can stumble over it or use it as a stepping stone.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cognitive Reserve

I initially confuse every new doctor when they first meet me because my verbal skills, while significantly decreased from where they were a dozen or so years ago, are still so high. Until they look at my test results, every doctor questions my dementia diagnosis. I think I may have found out why I am such a paradox that on the one hand I have had to resort to a mortar and pestle to grind the daily tablets I take so that I can take them in apple sauce or yogurt because swallowing them whole has become a nightmare and yet can still read and write quite well (although remembering complicated plots and lots of characters is beyond me now).

http://www.dailygood.org/more.php?n=4686 says

Reading alone can’t cure diseases, of course, but the researchers concluded that reading contributes to “cognitive reserve” (CR), the brain’s ability to protect itself and adapt to physical damage. CR has been “extensively studied in other neurological disorders—Alzheimer’s, stroke, other dementias, sleep apnea, traumatic brain injury,” says Margit Bleecker of the Center for Occupational and Environmental Neurology in Baltimore, Maryland, who co-authored the study. In all cases, “individuals with more CR are able to withstand injury to the brain.”

Given that I have been an avid reader since I was a young child* and still read 8 - 10 hours a day (even when I was working full time, I read at least 4 - 6 hours a day), I think that might be why despite having so much deterioration in some parts of my brain (such as the parts that control things like visual-spatial perception) my word handling ability is much higher than one would expect for someone 10 years into a dementia diagnosis.

*When my first grade classmates were reading "See Spot run," I was reading Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames books and when I was formally tested by a psychologist when I was a Sophomore in High School, my reading comprehension and vocabulary levels were at the level expected of a College Professor.

I am thinking this lifelong history of avid reading for hours every day has given me a strong "cognitive reserve," that is now offering me a great deal of protection in slowing down the rate of some of my deterioration.

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