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Researchers look into how Alzheimer’s affects brain networks

As Alzheimer’s care continues to be a major part of senior living, researchers are working to try and learn more about the disease.

Currently one of the top killers in the U.S., Alzheimer’s disease is the only one on the list that cannot be prevented, delayed or cured, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. According to the AA, the disease is currently the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. This is why learning more about the illness is crucial, as the baby boomers are just entering their senior years.

Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis looked at how Alzheimer’s affects brain networks’ coordination, which could give a better idea about the disease. The study’s authors looked at the brain scans of nearly 560 subjects. While some individuals were considered cognitively normal, others had the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. The researchers noted that while network communication was disrupted in people who had the disease, it doesn’t happen all at once.

“Until now, most research into Alzheimer’s effects on brain networks has either focused on the networks that become active during a mental task, or the default mode network, the primary network that activates when a person is daydreaming or letting the mind wander,” said senior author Dr. Beau Ances, assistant professor of neurology. “There are, however, a number of additional networks besides the default mode network that become active when the brain is idling and could tell us important things about Alzheimer’s effects.”

Exploring the different networks

The study’s authors examined the dorsal attention network, which directs a person’s interest toward the control network, which is involved in making decisions, a person’s consciousness and the sensory-motor network, which is key in the brain’s overall control of body’s movements.

The researchers noted that when one network is working, the other is quiet, and the brain can switch back and forth. However, those with Alzheimer’s disease suddenly find this capability blocked, causing issues in the brain.

“While we can’t prove this yet, one hypothesis is that as things go wrong in the processing of information in the default mode network, that mishandled data is passed on to other networks, where it creates additional problems,” Ances said.

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