Normal aging versus Alzheimer's disease and the potential for prevention

NEW YORK--Our improved understanding of how to maintain normal brain health is providing tantalizing clues about what may prevent or reduce the likelihood of developing Alzheimer's disease (AD), according to Marilyn Albert, Ph.D., a leading authority on risk factors and AD.

"The normal aging of the brain is very different from what happens in AD. The old thinking was that the normal cognitive changes in aging were the result of cell loss throughout the brain," said Dr. Albert, director of the division of cognitive neuroscience, department of neurology, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and chair of the Alzheimer's Association Medical and Scientific Advisory Committee. "We now know that while there is some cell loss in the aging brain, cell loss in the areas responsible for memory is normally very limited." Dr. Albert spoke today at an American Medical Association media briefing on Alzheimer's disease in New York City.

Changes in brain chemistry that result in changes in the way the neurons communicate are more likely to be responsible for the memory problems associated with normal aging, according to Dr. Albert. "The memory loss and other cognitive changes in AD, however, are the result of profound neuronal loss in the parts of the brain critical for memory. These areas are the first affected by AD, although the destruction of nerve cells continues to progress throughout all areas of the brain."

"There is enormous interest in finding out what we can do to keep our brains healthy. Three NIH Institutes (the National Institute on Aging, National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke) are putting together a collaborative effort to bring together what we already know and to find cost-effective ways of extending our knowledge," said Dr. Albert.

Researchers will analyze data from past studies and look at ongoing studies to see if there are ways to get a lot of new cognitive data wi

Contact: Joanna Downer
American Medical Association

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