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Does the brain work harder to tackle Alzheimer's?

Does the brain work harder to tackle Alzheimer's?
15th September 2014

The brain works harder to compensate for the early signs of Alzheimer's disease in some individuals, according to a new study.

Scientists from the University of California tried to ascertain why some individuals with amyloid plaques - a hallmark of the neurodegenerative condition - don't seem to develop the disease itself. 

They tested 71 individuals - 22 young and 49 older adults - who showed no sign of cognitive impairment, although 16 of them had amyloid tangles. The participants were asked to remember some pictures and were then tested on what they could recall.

All the patients scored roughly similar results, although when looking at their brain activity, researchers discovered the brains of those with the deposits worked harder when attempting to remember the specific details of the images. 

It is hoped this finding could help scientists to understand why not everyone with amyloid-beta plaques don't experience the condition, which has plagued experts for years. One suggestion has been that these tangles are not actually an indicator of the disease.

Previous studies have suggested that those who participate in more cognitive abilities tend to have lower levels of amyloid-beta. 

Researcher Dr William Jagust said: "It seems that their brain has found a way to compensate for the presence of the proteins associated with Alzheimer’s.

"I think it is very possible that people who spend a lifetime involved in cognitively stimulating activity have brains that are better able to adapt to potential damage."

The next step is to work out why some people are better at using their brain than others when they have these tangles. 

Dr Laura Phipps from Alzheimer's Research UK called for more research to know how to interpret these results. She highlighted the need to see whether this additional activity is an indicator that the brain is compensating for the early signs of the degenerative condition or not. 

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