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J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;19(4):1101-22. doi: 10.3233/JAD-2010-1306.

Promoting successful cognitive aging: a comprehensive review.

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Brigham Behavioral Neurology Group, Division of Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, Department of Neurology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Promoting successful cognitive aging is a topic of major importance to individuals and the field of public health. This review presents a coherent framework not only for evaluating factors, protective activities, and enhancing agents that have already been proposed, but also ones that will be put forward in the future. The promotion of successful cognitive aging involves the dual goals of preventing loss of information processing capacity and cognitive reserve, and enhancing brain capacity and cognitive reserve. Four major lines of evidence are available for evaluating whether a proposed factor promotes successful cognitive aging: 1) epidemiologic/cohort studies; 2) animal/basic science studies; 3) human "proof-of-concept" studies; and 4) human intervention studies. Each line of evidence has advantages and limitations that will be discussed. Through illustrative examples, we trace the ways in which each method informs us about the potential value of several proposed factors. Currently, lines of converging evidence allow the strongest case to be made for physical and cognitively stimulating activities. Although epidemiological data seem to favor the use of statins to lower the risk of dementia, more definitive recommendations await further randomized controlled studies. There is presently no clear evidence that antioxidants or Ginkgo biloba promote successful cognitive aging. The impact of resveratrol, fish oil, and a long list of other proposed agents needs to be determined. Clinicians remain well-positioned to identify and aggressively treat vascular risk factors, diabetes, sleep disorders, and other conditions that may reduce brain capacity, and to encourage activities that can build cognitive reserve.

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