Alzheimer's: Brains Shrink with Age But Maintaining Cell Density May Protect It Against Cognitive Impairment

First Posted: Jun 15, 2015 07:25 AM EDT

Your brain shrinks with age, but that doesn't mean that your thinking slows down. Scientists have found that while the brain shrinks, cell density remains constant.

In this latest study, the researchers took images of the brain using a powerful 9.4-Tesla MRI. This is the first of its kind for human imaging. The 9.4 T magnetic field is more than three times stronger than a typical MRI.

"The information provided by these 9.4-Tesla scans may be very useful in helping us to detect tiny losses of brain cells and the reduction in cell density that characterizes the early stages of neurodegenerative diseases that can take decades to develop before symptoms appear, like Alzheimer's disease," said Keith Thulborn, lead author of the new study, in a news release. "If we can identify when Alzheimer's pathology starts, the efficacy of new drugs or other interventions to slow or prevent Alzheimer's disease can be tested and monitored when the disease starts, instead of after it's developed from 20 or 30 years and becomes clinically apparent."

In all, the researchers looked at the brains of 49 cognitively normal adults between the ages of 21 to 80. The findings revealed that during aging, cell density is preserved throughout the brain. This maintenance of brain cell density may actually protect the brain against cognitive impairment as the brain gradually shrinks in normal aging.

The findings are published in the journal NMR in Biomedicine.

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