Texas A&M researchers studying brain changes in aging adults

Published: Mar. 8, 2017 at 5:38 PM CST
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Researchers at Texas A&M University are working to understand how the brain changes as humans get older.

Rosemarie Swanson is 74. She is allowing researchers in the university’s cognitive neuroscience department to study her brain.

"Some of my grandparents, had probably not Alzheimer's, but senile dementia,” said Swanson.

The study aims to understand when, during adulthood, changes in the brain occur that may lead to changes in behavior. Dr. Jessica Bernard studies young adults between the ages of 18-30, and older adults age 65 and up, as they perform the same tasks. All participants are in good health, and show no signs of prior existing brain conditions.

"It will give us ideas for future research where we can really build and, ultimately, hopefully improve the health and quality of life for all of the aging Americans that do suffer from these declines, and for the many that unfortunately are impacted by Alzheimer’s or dementia,” said Dr. Bernard.

The study looks at the cerebellum, an important part of the brain for motor behaviors like standing up and walking. It is also important for processing thought. Dr. Bernard combines MRI screenings with other stimulation to determine how and where changes in brain activity occur.

"If we can pinpoint when during the adult lifespan we start to see some of these changes that are indicative of some of these declines, be it in motor or for cognitive behavior, we can step in and intervene,” said Dr. Bernard.

Swanson knows she will not see the impact from this study in her life time, but still felt strongly about participating.

"I think that it's really important to understand the brain, and how it works and what happens with aging. So i was delighted to be able to contribute something to that,” said Swanson.

Data collection for the older adult brain imaging study will be concluded by May, and then researchers will work on data analysis throughout this summer. In the upcoming months, Dr. Bernard hopes to begin another study which would look at participants, across multiple years, to make the study more complete.