MRI Brain Scans May Predict Development of Dementia

Reduced brain volume in cognitively healthy elderly associated with increased risk

TUESDAY, Jan. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Magnetic resonance imaging of cognitively healthy older people may detect brain atrophy that predicts the development of dementia and Alzheimer disease, according to study findings published in the January issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Tom den Heijer, M.D., of the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and colleagues used MRI to assess the brain volumes of 511 dementia-free people aged 60 to 90 years in 1995-1996. During follow-up visits between 1997 and 2003, they identified 35 participants with dementia, 26 of whom had Alzheimer disease.

Compared to participants who remained dementia-free, baseline brain volumes were 17% smaller in participants who developed dementia two to three years after MRI, and another 5% smaller in those diagnosed six years after MRI.

"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 authors conclude. "We must bear in mind that most people with atrophy did not develop dementia, even after six years. Further prospective population studies are therefore required to find additional biomarkers, including other brain imaging parameters, that alone or in combination with clinical and genetic characteristics can help separate those who are at risk for developing dementia."

Full Text (subscription or payment may be required)

Physician's Briefing