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Could Having a Bigger Head Help Slow Alzheimer's?
Date:7/12/2010

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, July 12 (HealthDay News) -- A new study suggests that Alzheimer's disease develops slower in people with bigger heads, perhaps because their larger brains have more cognitive power in reserve.

It's not certain that head size, brain size and the rate of worsening Alzheimer's are linked. But if they are, the research findings could pave the way for individualized treatment for the disease, said study co-author Lindsay Farrer, chief of the genetics program at Boston University School of Medicine.

The ultimate goal is to catch Alzheimer's early and use medications more effectively, Farrer said. "The prevailing view is that most of the drugs that are out there aren't working because they're being given to people when what's happening in the brain is too far along," he said.

A century ago, some scientists believed that the shape of the head held secrets to a person's intelligence and personality -- those views have been since discounted. But today, research suggests that there may be "modest correlations" between brain size and smarts. Still, "there are many other factors that are associated with intelligence," stressed Catherine Roe, a research instructor in neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Nevertheless, there could be a connection between the size of the brain and how many neurons are available to "pick up the slack" when others go dark because of diseases such as Alzheimer's. The new study, published in the July 13 issue of Neurology, explores that possibility.

The study authors examined the medical records of 270 patients with Alzheimer's. They looked for links between brain shrinkage, head circumference -- an indicator of brain size -- and the progression of their disease.

After adjusting their results so they wouldn't be thrown off by factors such as the age and ethnicity of the patients, the research
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