A primary goal of research in cognitive impairment and dementia is to understand how some individuals retain sufficient cognitive function for a fulfilling life while many others are robbed of their independence, sometimes their essence, in the last years and decades of life. In this commentary, we propose operational definitions of the types of factors that may help individuals retain cognitive function with aging. We propose operational definitions of resistance, resilience, reserve, with an eye toward how these may be measured and interpreted, and how they may enable research aimed at prevention. With operational definitions and quantification of resistance, resilience, and reserve, a focused analytic search for their determinants and correlates can be undertaken. This approach, essentially a search to identify protective risk factors and their mechanisms, represents a relatively unexplored pathway toward the identification of candidate preventive interventions.