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Brain reserve capacity and its role in preventing clinical signs of Alzheimer's disease studied

Identifying factors that increase the reserve capacity of the brain and enable people to tolerate the pathological changes that occur in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease offers a new and potentially powerful approach to delaying the clinical signs of the Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases, according to researchers at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center, Chicago.

Research is underway at Rush to identify the factors that increase or maintain the reserve capacity of the human brain. Researchers have known for some time that education and related lifestyle experiences affect cognitive function across the lifespan. There is also evidence that these educational experiences can reduce one's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

"How these lifestyle experiences actually affect the brain is unknown," according to Dr. David A. Bennett, director of the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center. "We think that education and factors related to education may affect the way the brain responds to the abnormal proteins that accumulate in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease. In other words, in people with similar amounts of these abnormal Alzheimer's disease protein deposits, those with more educational experiences will be less likely to have memory loss than those with less education," he explained.

The $9 million grant from the National Institute of Aging funds the "Memory and Aging Project" under the direction of Dr. Bennett. The study plans to enroll 1,200 older persons from throughout the Chicago area who agree to annual testing of cognitive and motor function and organ donation at the time of death.

"Even relatively small reductions of risk from Alzheimer's disease and other common neurological conditions will have a major public health impact for future generations," said Bennett.

"We want to understand how cognitively stimulating activities, from childhood to old age, affect brain structure,"
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Contact: John Pontarelli
jpontare@rsh.net
312-942-5949
Rush University Medical Center
22-Jul-2002


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