Researchers at Henry Ford Health System have discovered evidence that suggests the male brain shrinks faster with age than the female brain.
According to a study published in the February issue of Archives of Neurology, brain shrinkage, which normally occurs with age, is more pronounced in men than in women.
"We found that age-related shrinkage was greater for men in three regions of the brain that are involved in thinking, planning and memory," said C. Edward Coffey, M.D., chair of Henry Ford's Department of Psychiatry and the study's principal investigator. "The effects of aging also were observed in the other regions of the brain, but there the effects were similar in men and women."
Researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology to measure brain size of 330 healthy men and women over the age of 66. The MRI images revealed the following: á Brain shrinkage, as demonstrated by an increase in cerebrospinal fluid around the outside of the brain, was greater for men than women. á Fluid accumulation was especially marked around the frontal (front) and temporal (middle) lobes of men -- an indication of shrinkage in both lobes. The frontal and temporal lobes control thinking, planning and memory. á Greater shrinkage was directly observed in the parieto-occipital region of men. This region, located at the back of the brain, is responsible for thinking as well as integration of sensory information.
Henry Ford researchers are now examining the possible effects these size differences may have on behavior.
"We have known for a while that men tend to be more prone to age-related brain disorders such as memory loss and Alzheimer's disease. These findings may help provide an explanation for these sex differences," Dr. Coffey said. "We are currently investigating the potential functional differences that might result from the acceleration of age-related brain shrinkage in men."
The study was funded in part by the Allegheny-Singer Research Institute, the Mental Illness Research Association and the National Institutes of Health.
NOTE: A copy of the study is available by request. Please call Meredith Meyer at (313) 876-2882.