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Could The Size of Our Brains Help Us To Predict Whether We’re at Risk of Cognitive Impairment?

A new study carried out by the Center for Brain Health at Ohio’s Cleveland Clinic has suggested that a having a larger brain may reduce the risk of developing some kind of cognitive impairment, including dementia. The study, which focused on the hippocampi, was led by Aaron Bonner-Jackson and was based on the fact that previous studies into brain health had suggested that it was possible to use the size of the hippocampus as a measure for increased risk of Alzheimer’s.

The study focused on the hippocampi

The hippocampi are two seahorse-shaped structures which are located in the left and right brain; the left hippocampus is involved in verbal retention, while the right is concerned with spatial memory. As they help us to form new memories, if they are impaired in any way, it makes it more difficult for us to remember anything that’s happened recently. During the study, the researchers wanted to find out whether there was an association between brain volume and memory.

Their study involved the assessment of 226 patients in a memory clinic, 34 of whom had already received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, while 82 had been diagnosed with a mild cognitive impairment. The researchers used a specially designed test which required the patients to memorise lists of words which were read out to them. They were also asked to perform spatial tests, to demonstrate their ability to remember patterns and shapes. The patients were also given brain scans using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The results showed that the patients who had normal memory function had larger hippocampi than those who had some kind of cognitive impairment. They also put in a better performance in the memory tasks. Furthermore, as performance during the spatial memory tasks was a more sensitive measure of brain volume, the researchers concluded that spatial memory is a better indicator for assessing those at risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

What next?

While this study focused purely on the hippocampi, future research is likely to investigate other brain structures, such as the amygdala and thalamus. Furthermore, more research is needed to confirm the relationship between the hippocampi and the onset of dementia, particularly as this study was purely observational.

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