The connections known as "connectome" was mapped using advanced imaging technology and complex computer models. This project has laid the foundations for new advanced research into brain diseases like Alzheimer's and dementia.
The QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute is a medical research institute located in Herston, Brisbane, Australia. According to lead investigator, Alistair Perry from QIMR, the elderly brain connectome is very similar to that of the young adult differing only its capacity to transfer information. The researchers believe that this is related to cognitive decline in old age in areas like memory, attention and information processing tasks.
According to Mr Perry, the length of the connections in the elderly brain is shorter and carries less information than younger brains.
This project gives an idea about healthy ageing and the changes caused by neurodegenerative diseases
. Mr Perry said that the next step would be use a similar process to map the connectome of those with mild cognitive impairments. People with mild cognitive impairment are at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer's and this mapping process will enable greater accuracy in predicting one's risk of Alzheimer's. Mr Perry expressed that the team was interested in tackling neurodegenerative diseases due to the economic and social cost this illness causes to the patients and families but also added that this was subject to receiving funding.
The researchers at UNSW's (University of New South Wales) Centre (in Sydney) for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) and QIMR Berghofer analyzed and studied scans and data from the Sydney Memory and Ageing Study (MAS). Started in 2005, the MAS study examined the rate of cognitive decline in elderly individuals.
The Elderly Connectome project also found new evidence of the neural basis for different behaviours among men and women which continue up to old age. The researchers believe that this is related to cognitive decline in old age in areas like memory, attention and information processing tasks.
Mr Perry added that the team found stronger network in verbal and language areas in elderly women while in men they did not find such clear distinctions but found greater connections in brain areas related to reward centres and behaviour regulation.
This project has laid the foundations for new advanced research into Alzheimer's
The study has been published in Elsevier's journal NeuroImage.