Just like the rest of our bodies, our brains change as we age. Almost 40 per cent of people over the age of 65 notice slowed thinking and occasional problems with remembering certain places and people. When there is no underlying medical condition causing this kind of memory loss, it is considered a part of the normal aging process. However, serious memory loss, confusion and other major changes in the way our minds work may be a sign that brain cells are failing – which may be a vital indication of serious brain conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
The most common early symptom of Alzheimer's is difficulty retaining newly learned information. This occurs because Alzheimer's typically begins in the part of the brain that affects learning. As Alzheimer's advances through the brain it leads to increasingly severe symptoms including:
- Disorientation, mood and behaviour changes
- Serious memory loss and behavioural changes
- Confusion about events, time and place
- Unfounded suspicions about family, friends and professional caregivers
- Difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking
Microscopic changes in the brain that lead to these types of symptoms begins long before the first signs of memory loss. The brain has 100 billion nerve cells called neurons. Each nerve cell connects with others to form communication networks. There are several groups of nerve cells that help us think, learn and remember. Other functions are to assist with vision and sound.
To function at an optimal level, brain cells operate like tiny factories. They receive supplies, generate energy, construct equipment and get rid of waste. Cells also process and store information and communicate with other cells. Coordination as well as large amounts of fuel and oxygen are required to keep the brain running optimally.
Scientists believe Alzheimer's disease prevents parts of the cell factory from running well. They are not sure where the trouble starts but just like in a real factory, backups and breakdowns in one system cause problems in other areas. As the damage spreads, cells lose their ability to do their jobs and eventually die, causing irreversible changes in the brain. These microscopic changes can occur up to 10 years before Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed.
There are lots of competing theories behind what causes these cell factories from working correctly. In fact, for such a common disease it is amazing how little we know. At Prenuvo we tend towards the belief that dementia is likely a vascular problem – that is, it has its roots in the inability of certain parts of the brain to get a good supply of oxygen. The reason we hold to this belief is that we tend to see the early signs of dementia in the parts of the brain where the internal brain blood plumbing is dependent on very small capillaries. These capillaries can easily get blocked by build-up of plaque. Thus, not surprisingly, good cardiovascular health (which reduces plaque build up) and brain training (which increases the blood supply to the brain) are some of the key actions that you can take to reduce dementia risk.
A Prenuvo comprehensive scan takes very detailed brain volume measurements in tiny 1mm cubes. We can use this to assess the volume of brain matter present in the many different parts of the brain. At a single point in time this can show if you are suffering from advanced dementia or have any other form of brain damage (for example, damage post stroke).
Even more powerfully, for patients who have two comprehensive Prenuvo scans over a number of years we can use subtle changes in brain volume as a predictor of dementia, well before symptoms become obvious to you and your loved ones. Because everyone’s brain is different, the most sensitive test for abnormal brain changes is to compare you, not to an average person, but to yourself a few years ago. Thus, especially when you feel healthy and fine, it is tremendously helpful to establish a healthy baseline so that there is a point from which you can compare progress in a later assessment.
At Prenuvo, we are continuously trying to find new ways to utilize advanced MRI to help you take better care of yourself and your loved ones. If you have any questions about our scans, or it is time for you to book your Prenuvo scan, please feel free to respond to this email or give us a call at +1-604-227-3000.
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