Dementia Can Be Detected by Middle-Aged Brain Changes: Study

Dementia Can Be Detected by Middle-Aged Brain Changes: Study

Dementia in middle age person

We know that there are various changes in the brain as we go through the life stages. Starting from the prenatal period when the brain has started to be formed. Through childhood and adolescence where we can see rapid development in the brain. Here we can see children learning new things and forming new connections within the brain. This study reveals how the brain changes in middle adulthood may signal the onset of dementia.

In childhood and adolescence, the brain is yet to be fully matured as the prefrontal cortex is yet to be fully developed. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain, which is responsible for decision-making and executive functioning, which makes it the logical and practical centre of the brain. When we step into young adulthood, our prefrontal cortex is fully developed and with it the rapid changes and development in the brain turn into slow and gradual processing of declination. In the young adult stage, we are at our full capacity physically and mentally, but it may also be an inception of slow and gradual decline of the brain.

Also Read: Understanding Dementia: Signs, Symptoms and Coping Strategies

Middle Age and the Brain:

Although there may not be as much room for intervention as in older age, when cognitive and brain health deterioration is most noticeable, middle age has historically received less research attention. Middle age is defined as the transition period to old age. It is the period where we can see physical and cognitive decline, marking the impending old age. According to recent studies that assessed everyday memories, it has been found that the changes and cognitive deterioration in the brain becomes rapid and unstable during middle age. This implies that throughout this time, the brain might be changing more quickly rather than gradually. There are changes in multiple brain areas that occur during midlife. Among them is the hippocampus, a region essential for creating new memories.

Also, the shrinking of the brain which starts gradually from young adulthood, accelerates during middle age as reported by studies. The white matter which is responsible for forming connections and communicating within the brain matures slowly through young adulthood. White matter connections allow different parts of the brain to communicate with one another and create networks that are linked to each other and capable of performing cognitive and sensory tasks like vision and memory. This white matter loses volume during middle age and hence the signals cannot be transmitted fast resulting in slowing of reaction time. The sensory and cognitive network starts deteriorating faster in middle adulthood, especially the memory networks. The brain plasticity also weakens hence making it difficult to learn new things.

Also Read: Essential tips for caregivers and families of dementia patients

Dementia and Middle Age Risk Factors

Dementia is a broad term used to describe a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking, and social abilities severely to interfere with daily functioning. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of cases. We have seen that in middle age, there is a rapid decline in brain functioning, but it is also the age where we can detect early risk factors of future cognitive decline and dementia.

Research has found that it turns out the brain ages, according to the substances in the blood. Our organs and cells gradually deteriorate over time, and the immune system may respond to this by initiating an inflammatory response.

Once in the bloodstream, inflammatory chemicals have the potential to enter the brain, disrupt regular brain function, and even worsen cognitive abilities. In an intriguing study, researchers from the Universities of Mississippi and Johns Hopkins examined the levels of inflammatory chemicals in middle-aged persons’ blood and were able to forecast changes in cognitive function 20 years in the future.

Proteins Linked to Dementia Risk:

A study was conducted to find proteins that are overexpressed in middle-aged persons (classified as 45–65 years old) who go on to develop dementia in later life. Researchers collected blood samples from 10,981 participants, with a mean age of 60, during the study’s initial years, 1993–1995. From these blood samples, they subsequently examined more than 4,800 plasma proteins. During the 25-year follow-up period, dementia was identified in 1,874 (17%) of the subjects. 32 plasma proteins that were linked to an increased risk of dementia were found by the researchers. GDF15, a protein implicated in inflammation, oxidative stress, and immunoregulatory and metabolic processes, showed the highest correlation.

Also Read: Pseudodementia: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Subsequently, they looked at whether proteins were linked to the risk of dementia in the near term (within 15 years of protein measurement) and long term (beyond 15 years of protein measurement). Seven proteins in midlife were linked to a lower risk of near-term dementia, including GDF15 and proteins involved in immune system function, growth factor, and nerve and synapse function. Protein breakdown and binding, according to a reliable source. Along with six other proteins that were not identified at the 15-year mark, GDF15 was also linked to long-term dementia risk, indicating that the biological pathways linked to dementia risk evolve with time.

Psychological Distress in Middle Age and Dementia

Psychological distress is a broad term for the symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, and other mental health problems. We have learned about loneliness in middle-aged adults in previous articles, resulting in negative mental health outcomes like anxiety and depression. Dementia risk is increased by depression, according to several research. Consequently, prompt treatment of depression may contribute to its prevention.

Previous research, including a 2022 study, found that people with persistently high, chronically low, or increasingly severe depression had a greater risk of dementia than people without depression or with progressively reducing symptoms of depression. Anxiety, vital weariness, and psychological stress have all been linked in other research to the delayed development of dementia. However, a 28-year follow-up research on the connection between dementia and depression discovered that, rather than dementia causing depression, depression mostly caused dementia.

Optimizing Brain Health

We have learned about how there are structural and functional changes in the brain during middle adulthood. It is important to know that individual experiences of brain changes during middle age can vary widely based on factors such as genetics, lifestyle choices (diet, exercise, and cognitive engagement), overall health, and environmental influences. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including regular physical activity, a balanced diet rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, adequate sleep, stress management, and mental stimulation through social interactions, learning, and challenging activities, can support brain health during middle age and beyond. Additionally managing underlying health conditions and seeking medical advice for any concerning cognitive changes can help promote overall well-being during this life stage.


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