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Alzheimer's, Dementia & Mental Health

Brain Circuitry Loss May Be Sign of Cognitive Decline in Healthy Elderly

Brain area known as the fornix may be connected to cognitive decline in senior citizens

The Hippocampus appears to be crucial for the transfer of memories into long-term storage. While it is debated as to exactly how this task is carried out, it is clear that the hippocampus is necessary to file away new memories as they occur.

Image from NuroRehabilitation & Neuropsychological Services, P.C., a neuropsychology practice based in Massapequa Park, New York. The practice includes neuropsychologist Dr. Robert Coben and neurophysiologist, Dr. William J. Hudspeth. Specialties include neuropsychological assessment, QEEG, and neurofeedback. Website, The Brain Labs.

Sept. 9, 2013 - The quest to find that very moment when a healthy elderly brain shifts into cognitive decline – considered an important goal for finding a better way to fight dementia – may have a new area to explore. The loss of white matter in the area of the brain known as the fornix may be connected to cognitive decline in senior citizens, says a new study.

This discovery may be helpful in predicting the earliest clinical deterioration, according to the study by Evan Fletcher, Ph.D., of the University of California, Davis, and colleagues.

Atrophy in the hippocampus of the brain is well recognized in the later stages of cognitive decline and is one of the most studied changes associated with the Alzheimer disease process. However, changes to the fornix and other regions of the brain structurally connected to the hippocampus are still being explored, according to the study background.


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The specific purpose of this research was to examine the involvement of the hippocampus-fornix circuit in the very earliest stages of cognitive impairment and to determine whether the volumes of fornix white matter and hippocampal gray matter would be useful markers for understanding the onset of dementia and for clinical intervention.

The study included 102 cognitively normal elderly patients, with an average age of 73 years, recruited through community outreach, and the study used magnetic resonance imaging and other scanning scans during repeated visits over four years.

According to the results, changes in fornix white matter volume were “highly significant predictors” of cognitive decline.

“This could be among the first studies establishing fornix degeneration as a predictor of incipient cognitive decline among healthy elderly individuals,” the study concludes.

“Predictive fornix volume reductions might be explained at least in part by clinically silent hippocampus degeneration. The importance of this finding is that white matter tract measures may become promising candidate biomarkers for identifying incipient cognitive decline in a clinical setting, possibly more so than traditional gray matter measures.”

The study was published today in JAMA Neurology.


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