"Not a harmless part of the aging process"

There is a pervasive mythology surrounding aging: that it includes many harmless changes, things that are "normal" and therefore not worthy of the attention of medicine. This is all nonsense. All changes that happen with aging are damage-driven declines, but because the overall effect is so disastrous it can be hard to pin down and separate out the lesser components. As biotechnology improves, we will see ever more pieces of aging segmented off and named as specific diseases - but in reality it's all harmful, and the full breadth of aging should be fought against: researchers "say a common condition called leukoaraiosis, made up of tiny areas in the brain that have been deprived of oxygen and appear as bright white dots on MRI scans, is not a harmless part of the aging process, but rather a disease that alters brain function in the elderly. ... In the past, leukoaraiosis has been considered a benign part of the aging process, like gray hair and wrinkles. ... [Researchers] performed functional MRI (fMRI) scans on cognitively normal elderly participants recruited from the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging between 2006 and 2010. In 18 participants, the amount of leukoaraiosis was a moderate 25 milliliters, and in 18 age-matched control participants, the amount of disease was less than five milliliters. The patients were imaged in an MRI scanner as they performed a semantic decision task by identifying word pairs and a visual perception task that involved differentiating straight from diagonal lines. ... Although both groups performed the tasks with similar success, the fMRI scans revealed different brain activation patterns between the two groups. Compared to members of the control group, patients with moderate levels of leukoaraiosis had atypical activation patterns, including decreased activation in areas of the brain involved in language processing during the semantic decision task and increased activation in the visual-spatial areas of the brain during the visual perception task. ... Different systems of the brain respond differently to disease. White matter damage affects connections within the brain's language network, which leads to an overall reduction in network activity."

Link: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-08/rson-cs080712.php

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