Level of reading skills as a measure of cognitive reserve in elderly adults

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Introduction. Cognitive reserve modulates between neurodegenerative processes and the clinical manifestations of cognitive impairment and dementia. This construct is associated with the capacity to optimise the execution of tasks by recruiting neuronal networks and with the use of alternative cognitive strategies that would be mediated by formal educational processes. Aim. To analyse the level of reading skills as a measure of cognitive reserve and as a reliable predictor of performance in tests for evaluating different cognitive domains. Subjects and methods. The sample consisted of 87 healthy subjects who were asked to complete the Word Naming test as an indicator of the level of reading skills; this allowed us to divide the sample into subjects with a low and a high level of reading ability. A broad neuropsychological battery was then applied. Results. The subjects with a low level of reading skills displayed lower general cognitive performance, reduced processing speed and cognitive deficits. Furthermore, the level of reading skills is a better predictor of performance in executive functions and general cognitive performance than the variables age, years of schooling and education. Conclusions. The level of reading skills has shown itself to be a good measure of cognitive reserve and a reliable predictor of executive and cognitive functioning in ageing. © 2013 Revista de Neurología.