A new study in Nature Neuroscience is suggesting that the brain can compensate in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Beta-amyloid protein deposits has long been considered a hallmark of the disease. What the new study is finding, is that even with the deposits, brains in some older people have found a way to compensate for the damage by activating additional brain cells.

This isn’t the first time a study has shown brain activation with the presence of beta-amyloid proteins. It wasn’t clear if this activation was just abnormal brain activation, or if it had a measurable impact on a person’s ability to retain cognitive function.

To study the mental fitness, researchers at UC-Berkeley recruited 71 participants to conduct brain scans on. The breakdown was 22 healthy young adults and 49 older adults with no signs of mental decline. During the initial testing, brain scans showed that 16 of the older group had beta-amyloid deposit.

The team then had the group memorize pictures of various scenes. Breaking down memory function, they then asked the study participants to remember base details of the scene, and then went further, asking about small details of the scene.

An example of one of the slides was a boy doing a handstand. Recalling the gist of the scene, study participants were asked if a general description, in this case a boy doing a handstand, lined up with the slide. Branching off from general concepts, details were filled in such as the color of the boy’s shirt.

William Jagust, Professor of Public Health and Neuroscience, talked about those participants with beta-amyloid deposits. Both groups performed well, but “it turned out that for people with beta-amyloid deposits in the brain, the more detailed and complex their memory, the more brain activity there was.”

He added, “It seems that their brain has found a way to compensate for the presence of the proteins associated with Alzheimer’s.”

Alzheimer’s accounts for 60-80% of cases of dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association says that every 67 seconds, a person is diagnosed in the United States. Costs of caring is expected to reach $214 billion this year, with $150 billion coming from Medicare and Medicaid.

Professor Jagust’s current study and a recent one shows that the more cognitive stimulation you have in your life, the better your brain will be able to adapt to the protein build-up and ward off mental decline.

Guess that means we all need to crack open a book more than we settle down in front of the TV.

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