WEDNESDAY, Jan. 4, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Reduced brain volume may serve as a predictor of future dementia in healthy elderly people, according to a study in the January issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.
People with atrophy in parts of the brain known as the amygdala and hippocampus had the highest risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer's disease, according to the Dutch study, which followed 511 elderly people for an average of six years who did not initially show signs of dementia.
With potential predictors, new treatments may be developed to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, researchers at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam said.
Dr. Tom den Heijer and his colleagues assessed brain volume using MRI scans. The study began in 1995 with follow-up visits between 1997 and 2003, during which participants were asked about memory problems and underwent neuropsychological testing. Thirty-five people developed dementia, and 26 were diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
Those destined to develop dementia showed brain volume reductions between 5 percent and 17 percent, according the study. Atrophy rates accelerated to as high as 40 percent in patients with Alzheimer's disease, the researchers said.
"Our study suggests that structural brain imaging can help identify people at high risk for developing dementia, even before they have any memory complaints or measurable cognitive impairment," the researchers wrote. "However, we must bear in mind that most people with atrophy did not develop dementia."
Further studies will look at other possible predictors, the researchers added.
The National Institute on Aging has more on Alzheimer's disease.