Why does less blood flow to the brain as we age?

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Research Story

Baycrest’s Canada Research Chair in Neuroimaging of Aging, Dr. Jean Chen, is focused on fluctuations in blood and oxygen in the brain.

Why?
Scientists have shown that blood flow to our brain declines with age, and that vascular disease is present in 90 per cent of patients with dementia on autopsy. A few years ago, Dr. Chen was the first scientist to investigate the link between the blood-flow decline and brain shrinkage in aging. She wants to know why blood flow to the brain is going down:

The good news is there are ways to improve blood flow through everyday activities

  • Is the aging brain slowing down and it needs less blood? Or,
  • Are the blood and oxygen needs in the aging brain unchanged, but the blood vessels aren’t delivering?

To answer these questions, Dr. Chen has pioneered the use of resting-state fMRI to examine the brain’s vascular changes that could underlie various forms of dementia. This includes studying the elasticity or stiffness of blood vessels in the brain. It is such a unique approach that it has resulted in a patent application, and attracted interest from leading clinical researchers.

“The good news is that there are ways to improve blood flow through everyday activities, such as exercise and healthy eating,” says Dr. Chen. “With our work, we could provide a brain health measurement for doctors to help them decide whether a patient should start preventative interventions before the disease develops.”

As Dr. Chen finds answers, it will lead to a way to measure the impact of treatments and interventions on the brain. And once we can do that, we can focus on the treatments and therapies that help patients the most.

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