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Fewer Brain 'Tangles' May Mean Smarter Old Age
Date:11/17/2008

Autopsies of quick-witted elderly hint at how they stayed that way

MONDAY, Nov. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Differences in the brains of elderly people may help explain why some develop dementia while others are among the "super aged" -- people who maintain sharp mental focus and ability well into old age.

In a preliminary study, researchers have found that the brains of these still-sharp folks over 80 have none, or very little, of the protein "tangles" that are a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease.

"Both plaques and tangles are what we consider the pathology of Alzheimer's but [only] when they occur in very, very high quantities," explained study principal investigator, Changiz Geula, research professor of neuroscience at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. "In the elderly, they're nearly always present in much smaller quantities, but what we are finding is that in the super aged, in some cases, they may be completely absent or in small quantities."

Geula was expected to present his findings Sunday at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, in Washington, D.C.

Clinicians urged caution in interpreting the results, arguing that they don't necessarily break new ground.

"I think this is preliminary; I would not read too much into it," said Dr. Marshall Keilson, director of neurology at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City. "We don't really know which of these various pathologies are the key factors in causing Alzheimer's. It's still a question after years and years."

"The truth of the matter is that people who have memory disorders as they get older have it because of changes in the brain," added Dr. Evelyn C. Granieri, chief of geriatric aging and medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City. "Some are going to escape that pathology, and we don't really know w
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