How Your Brain is Wired May Impact How You Live: Findings from the Human Connectome Project
What: Scientists released findings suggesting a strong correlation between classically considered positive lifestyle behaviors and demographic measures (education, SES, IQ, life satisfaction) and a pattern of brain connectivity between areas of the brain typically associated with higher level aspects of human cognition, such as memory, creativity, and reasoning. The findings, released online in Nature Neuroscience this week, used data from 461 subjects participating in the Human Connectome Project, a large-scale program using imaging data to discover the neural networks that underlie brain function. Interestingly there was also an association with low activity along this particular pattern of brain connectivity and negatively considered lifestyle outcomes. While there is some suggestion that the connectome pattern associated with classically positive behavioral outcomes ressembles the “g-factor” thought to associate to general intelligence, the researchers state that the connectome more closely ressembles a general model of positive brain function that may “influence life in a complex society.”
Why It Matters: The ability of researchers to map the brain’s pathways and look at the association of those patterns (which is a reflection, if you will, of how we “think”) to behavior and other outcomes is truly on the cutting edge,. Focus on the patterns of connections of brain activity through research like this will give us tremendous insight into not only the brain’s function but further our understanding of trauma, disease and eventually inform treatment.
The Takeaway: This study suggests that we can know image and map data to support that how we think may influence how we live. This is “next level” research and the result of advances in imaging, data science and public support for brain mapping and additional revolutionary areas of brain science. It is a harbinger of more to come, including how we can understand these findings in relationship to policy, education, and treatment. Also, if you are a “brain geek” this is super cool stuff.
Atrial Fibrillation in Young Older Adults Associated with Greater Risk for Dementia: Results from the Rotterdam Study
What: Atrial fibrillation (an abnormal heart rhythm) has been previously associated with increased risk for stroke and dementia. However, longitudinal findings have not always been consistent and therefore have not always clearly informed treatment. Recently published findings suggest that younger subjects (under age 67 years) with longer duration of atrial fibrillation exposure where at significantly increased risk for dementia over time. The study, released online this month in JAMA Neurology, looked at 20 years of follow-up data from 6,514 dementia-free subjects participating in the Rotterdam Study to determine whether increased dementia risk was associated with atrial fibrillation.
Why It Matters: Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of heart arrhythmia (CDC, 2015). While a known risk factor for stroke, the implication of a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation to long-term dementia risk has been relatively unclear based on the longitudinal literature. This study, which uses a large database over a significant period of time, suggests that exposure to atrial fibrillation when we are younger, and are exposed for longer, does indeed increase our chances of developing a serious memory disorder.
The Takeaway: Anyone with atrial fibrillation should be treated to reduce stroke risk and now, perhaps in addition, dementia risk. This is especially true for those adults under 65.