Public Release: 

OHSU researchers study healthy aging population

Research may help explain why some suffer mental decline while others don't

Oregon Health & Science University

PORTLAND, Ore. - Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University are investigating why some aging persons develop dementia and Alzheimer's disease, while others do not. Healthy elders aged 84 and older, and those aged of 60 to 74, are participating in the Oregon Brain Aging Study at OHSU. The study compares brain structure, memory, concentration and problem solving in healthy participants to participants who suffer from Alzheimer's disease. The study hopes to offer clues to diagnosis, prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's, and other forms of dementia.

The C. Rex and Ruth H. Layton Alzheimer's Research Center at OHSU launched the study in 1989. The trial is unusual because few dementia studies have been conducted with healthy older subjects. Participants must be in good physical and mental condition. In addition, volunteers must not be in need of certain medications, including heart, blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes medications.

Initially, participants undergo two examinations within one month, and then one examination annually. Examinations include a review of the study participant's medical history, a physical exam, tests of mental functioning and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scan. Blood tests and electrocardiogram (EKG) are also conducted at the initial visit. All results are forwarded to each participant's primary care physician to assist in their personal care. Transportation to the university and staff escorts to appointments are provided.

One participant, 86-year-old Tom Potter, does his part to keep mentally and physically healthy. As a retired architect, he continues drafting on his computer and walks two miles regularly. Potter has a unique connection with the study - his former wife has Alzheimer's disease.

"Through the study, I receive a brain MRI every year," said Potter. "That gives me a tangible standpoint on my mental health."

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