Imaging Studies of Aging, Neurodegenerative Disease, and Alcoholism.
Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, disorders such as alcoholism, and the aging process can lead to impaired cognitive function and dementia. Researchers and clinicians have used noninvasive imaging techniques to determine the structural and physiological alterations in the brain that are associated with these conditions. Analyses of the brain's structure have found that shrinkage (atrophy) of the brain tissue is characteristic for all conditions associated with dementia, but that the specific locations of atrophied brain structures vary among different neurodegenerative diseases and alcohol-induced disorders. Similarly, studies analyzing the metabolism in various brain structures have found that, depending on whether dementia was induced by neurodegenerative diseases, alcoholism, or aging, the affected brain structures vary slightly. Based on such studies, researchers and clinicians now can more accurately define different types of dementia and predict their clinical course.