New Imaging Study Shows Impact of Aging on the Brain

Brain connections that play a key role in complex thinking skills show the poorest health with advancing age, according to new research.

The new study, from researchers at the University of Edinburgh, also found that connections supporting functions such as movement and hearing are relatively well preserved in later life.

For the study, published in Nature Communications journal, researchers analyzed brain scans from more than 3,500 people between the ages of 45 and 75 taking part in the UK Biobank study.

The scientists say they were able to chart the brain’s connections and show the subtle ways in which those connections weaken with age.

Knowing how and where connections between brain cells — so-called white matter — decline as we age is important in understanding why some people’s brains and thinking skills age better than others, the researchers noted.

“By precisely mapping which connections of the brain are most sensitive to age, and comparing different ways of measuring them, we hope to provide a reference point for future brain research in health and disease,” said Dr. Simon Cox of the university’s Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology (CCACE), who led the study.

“This is only one of the first of many exciting brain imaging results still to come from this important national health resource.”

“Until recently, studies of brain scans with this number of people were not possible,” added Professor Ian Deary, CCACE Director.  “Day by day the UK Biobank sample grows, and this will make it possible to look carefully at the environmental and genetic factors that are associated with more or less healthy brains in older age.”

Source: University of Edinburgh