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How does the brain change with age? Part #1 Cam-CAN project overview

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Published on Jul 23, 2013

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It is said that death and taxes are the only certainties in life. Ageing is another aspect of living common to every person whether old or young -- but what's different is how our brains and cognitive abilities change as we grow older.

Some people's minds remain sharp and intact well into their 80s and 90s, whereas others can slide into cognitive decline from their early 50s. Why such a divergence? And then there are the people struck by the spectrum of conditions known as Alzheimer's disease; why do some people succumb to such a slow and debilitating fate, while others live longer, healthier lives?

A major £5M grant from BBSRC has established a new team called the Cambridge Centre for Ageing and Neuroscience (Cam-CAN) that seeks answers to these questions. By studying the brain and its cognitive functions using advanced brain imaging techniques and cognitive experiments, the team of researchers, based at the University of Cambridge and the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, hope to unravel the mechanisms and processes of healthy brain ageing.

"We are hoping that it will reveal the ways in which the brain's functionality can adapt to the age-related changes that take place in its structure (the while and grey matter) so as to maintain cognitive functions," says Cam-CAN Director Professor Lorraine Tyler from the University of Cambridge. "In doing so, we hope to be able to develop predictive models of healthy ageing so that, eventually, we will be able to determine a person's 'healthy aging the trajectory' when they are quite young."

This way, the biomarkers for health can be compared with the biomarkers from disease states, and interventions designed and implemented that in the future might restore the balance and well-being that every person wants.

And it's not just about old people. The Cam-CAN project is looking at the abilities of spritely 18-year-olds too; in fact its full cohort of 3000 participants spans the full adult range of 18-88. This is because recent research suggests that the brain changes throughout our lifespan -- not just when we are older.

Thumbnail image (cc) CaptPiper on Flickr

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