The concept of cognitive reserve provides an explanation for differences between individuals in susceptibility to age-related brain changes or pathology related to Alzheimer's disease, whereby some people can tolerate more of these changes than others and maintain function. Epidemiological studies suggest that lifelong experiences, including educational and occupational attainment, and leisure activities in later life, can increase this reserve. For example, the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease is reduced in individuals with higher educational or occupational attainment. Reserve can conveniently be divided into two types: brain reserve, which refers to differences in the brain structure that may increase tolerance to pathology, and cognitive reserve, which refers to differences between individuals in how tasks are performed that might enable some people to be more resilient to brain changes than others. Greater understanding of the concept of cognitive reserve could lead to interventions to slow cognitive ageing or reduce the risk of dementia.