Brain Changes in Older Adults at Very Low Risk for Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer's disease (AD) has a slow onset, so it is challenging to distinguish brain changes in healthy elderly persons from incipient AD. One-year brain changes with a distinct frontotemporal pattern have been shown in older adults. However, it is not clear to what extent these changes may have been affected by undetected, early AD. To address this, we estimated 1-year atrophy by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in 132 healthy elderly persons who had remained free of diagnosed mild cognitive impairment or AD for at least 3 years. We found significant volumetric reductions throughout the brain. The sample was further divided into low-risk groups based on clinical, biomarker, genetic, or cognitive criteria. Although sample sizes varied, significant reductions were observed in all groups, with rates and topographical distribution of atrophy comparable to that of the full sample. Volume reductions were especially pronounced in the default mode network, closely matching the previously described frontotemporal pattern of changes in healthy aging. Atrophy in the hippocampus predicted change in memory, with no additional default mode network contributions. In conclusion, reductions in regional brain volumes can be detected over the course of 1 year even in older adults who are unlikely to be in a presymptomatic stage of AD.