Cognitive aging: A neurorehabilitation perspective

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Population aging represents both an opportunity for and a threat to society. A major challenge for researchers and clinicians is to understand the causes of age-related decline in cognitive functions and promote prevention as an ideal solution to the challenge posed by an increasing elderly demographic burden. The causes of cognitive aging are multifactorial. Findings from the Nun study show that healthy aging and, on the other hand, dementia, are related not only to the degree of pathology present in the brain but also to the level of resistance to the clinical expression of the neuropathology. Moreover, epidemiological data reveal a number of risk and protective factors that could influence the occurrence of cognitive decline. In old mice and animals with experimental neurodegenerative conditions, some reports show the benefits of environmental enrichment exposure in cognitive outcomes. Considering human epidemiological study, some authors propose that an active and stimulating lifestyle in late life as well as optimal control of vascular and other chronic diseases both at middle age and late life can be two possible intervention strategies to prevent or postpone the onset of dementia and perhaps other neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's disease. Recently, in contrast to the age-related declines in cognitive function and brain structure, functional neuroimaging data show that brain activity increases with age, particularly in the frontal cortex. In accordance with these data, some researchers propose the scaffolding theory of aging and cognition. This model integrates the impact of biological aging and epidemiological experience to account for the neural reorganization of function that occurs in late adulthood. The model invokes a scaffolding mechanism as a basis for understanding neurocognitive aging. Interestingly, this mechanism has been used in rehabilitative contexts to describe how existing strengths can be harnessed to build new skills or recover and sustain capabilities that have been threatened by challenge. We conclude that prevention may represent an ideal solution to the challenge posed by cognitive decline, and scaffolding enhancement with new learning, engagement, exercise and cognitive training in the elderly show considerable promise for the successful aging. Some studies are now available but this possibility of preventive treatments deserves further data.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Cognitive Aging: Causes, Processes and Effects
PublisherNova Science Publishers, Inc.
Number of pages10
ISBN (Print)9781608760282
Publication statusPublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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