A new study may offer an explanation as to why some people with a build- up of beta-amyloid deposits, the destructive protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease, never develop dementia. The study’s principal investigator Dr. William Jagust, from the University of California, Berkeley’s Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, said, “This study provides evidence that there is plasticity or compensation ability in the aging brain that appears to be beneficial, even in the face of beta-amyloid accumulation.”
Using brain imaging technology, known as functional MRI, researchers monitored the brain activity of 22 healthy young adults and 49 older adults who showed no signs of mental decline. According to the study, the scans showed 16 of the 49 older adults had beta-amyloid deposits in their brain and the other 55 participants did not.
The participants were asked about the images they saw and were asked to match a written description to the scene. “Generally, the groups performed equally well in the tasks, 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,” Jagust said in a university news release. “It seems that their brain has found a way to compensate for the presence of the proteins associated with Alzheimer’s.”
The researchers were not able to conclude why some older adults with beta-amyloid deposits are able to compensate with different parts of their brain, but researchers think it has to do with the amount of mentally stimulating activity. Jagust said, “I think it’s very possible that people who spend a lifetime involved in cognitively stimulating activity have brains that are better able to adapt to potential damage.”