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CVl Annual Review


CVl Annual Review

Charting Our Progress is CVL’s annual review, with archives available

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“Brain Disconnection” May Underlie Loss of Financial Decision-making Ability in Alzheimer’s Disease

DALLAS – August 29, 2017 – A new CVL study is among the first to investigate how degraded connections in certain parts of the adult brain might affect one’s ability to perform the financial calculations that are vital to everyday life among older adults.

The results, published in the most recent issue of Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, relied on imaging the white matter connections within the brain and measuring how intact the connections are. Researchers found there is an association between the integrity of a person’s white matter – the tracts that allow communication between different brain regions – and the person’s ability to handle their finances.

“As we age, we tend to see a degradation of the connective fibers that wire the brain, much like a vacuum cleaner cord that has been run over too much with years of house-cleaning,” said Dr. Kristen Kennedy, the senior author on the paper. “The insulation of the cord gets worn and the electrical signal may not be conducted as well, or as rapidly. It’s a similar principle with conduction velocity across white matter brain connections.”

In collaboration with Drs. Dan Marson and Adam Gerstenecker at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where more than 100 healthy elderly, Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) participants were studied, David Hoagey, a doctoral student in Dr. Kennedy’s lab, analyzed diffusion-tensor images of the brain and related the measures each individuals’ performance on a battery of measures that assessed a variety of financial skills across 20 tasks.

Researchers found that participants’ financial skill varied according to severity of their cognitive impairment: Participants with AD scored lower in all measures than people with mild cognitive impairment, who themselves scored lower in most areas than healthy controls. Further, both of the cognitively impaired groups showed more severe white matter degradation compared to the healthy elderly group. Importantly, beyond the expected level of white matter degradation that normally comes with age, white matter integrity predicted financial ability in the MCI and AD groups.

Areas connecting prefrontal and parietal cortex showed degradation of white matter that correlated with problems performing financial calculations. The degraded white matter communicative pathways that result in a measurable behavioral change – in this case, the inability to complete the financial transactions associated with everyday life – is evidence of what researchers call “disconnection syndrome.”

“Whether the loss of white matter connectivity is causal or consequential to loss of neurons remains to be seen,” says Dr. Kennedy. “Either way, it seems that loss of or inefficiency of connections across the brain in MCI and AD individuals is linked to their ability to manage their financial affairs and maintain independence.”

This study was funded by a grant from the National Institute on Aging.

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Founded in 2010, CVL is a research center of the University of Texas at Dallas, with scientists studying the cognitive neuroscience of aging and ways to maintain cognitive health for life. Researchers at CVL also investigate how to slow cognitive aging and methods for the early detection of age-related neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Other research includes studies investigating the cognitive neuroscience of memory, and other fundamental cognitive processes.