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The concept of brain maintenance refers to the preservation of brain integrity in older age, while cognitive reserve refers to the capacity to maintain cognition in the presence of neurodegeneration or aging-related brain changes. While both mechanisms are thought to contribute to individual differences in cognitive function among older adults, there is currently no "gold standard" for measuring these constructs. Using machine-learning methods, we estimated brain and cognitive age based on deviations from normative aging patterns in the Whitehall II MRI substudy cohort (N = 537, age range = 60.34-82.76), and tested the degree of correspondence between these constructs, as well as their associations with premorbid IQ, education, and lifestyle trajectories. In line with established literature highlighting IQ as a proxy for cognitive reserve, higher premorbid IQ was linked to lower cognitive age independent of brain age. No strong evidence was found for associations between brain or cognitive age and lifestyle trajectories from midlife to late life based on latent class growth analyses. However, post hoc analyses revealed a relationship between cumulative lifestyle measures and brain age independent of cognitive age. In conclusion, we present a novel approach to characterizing brain and cognitive maintenance in aging, which may be useful for future studies seeking to identify factors that contribute to brain preservation and cognitive reserve mechanisms in older age.

Original publication




Journal article


Hum Brain Mapp

Publication Date





1626 - 1640


aging, brain maintenance, cognitive reserve, lifestyle, machine learning, neuroimaging, trajectories, Age Factors, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Aging, Brain, Cognitive Reserve, Cohort Studies, Female, Humans, Intelligence, Life Style, Machine Learning, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Middle Aged