Alzheimer  s Disease and Head Size

When it comes to Alzheimer's disease, head size may offer protection against progressing symptoms, according to a recent study published in the journal Neurology.

The study, conduced by researchers at the Technical University of Munich in Germany, found that Alzheimer's disease patients with the largest craniums had less brain atrophy and less advanced dementia and scored better on memory and cognitive skill tests than those study participants with smaller skulls.

One reason, speculated the researchers, may be because larger brains have more cognitive power in reserve, although it's not certain that head and brain size and progressing Alzheimer's symptoms are linked.

The scientists studied the medical records of 270 Alzheimer's disease patients from the United States, Canada, Germany, and Greece. The patients had all been given memory and cognitive skill tests as well as an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan of their brains to measure the extent of their disease determined by the amount of cell death found. The patients' head size was then taken using a tape measure.

The study results showed that patients with larger heads performed better on the memory and thinking tests even though they had the same degree of disease as their smaller head counterparts.

Staying Brain Healthy
Although the causes of Alzheimer's disease-the most common form of dementia-are unknown, risk factors for the ailment include a family history of the disease and aging. While you can't change those risk factors, there are many things you can do to keep your brain healthy as you age.

The Alzheimer's Association offers these suggestions:

  • Stay physically active.
    Physical exercise helps maintain good blood flow to the brain and encourages the growth of new brain cells. Staying active also reduces your chances for heart attack, stroke, and diabetes, giving you further protection against those risk factors for Alzheimer's and other types of dementia. Try getting 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a day, such as walking, bicycling, or gardening.
  • Eat a brain-healthy diet.
    Research is suggesting a link between high levels of cholesterol and an increased risk for stroke and brain cell damage. Eating a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet can help you stay brain fit. Increasing evidence is showing that a diet high in antioxidants found in dark vegetables and fruits may protect brain cells.
  • Stretch your brain.
    Participating in mentally stimulating activities strengthen brain cells and may help new ones grow. Reading, writing, and working on crossword or other puzzles can help. Also, keep your brain active by enrolling in adult-education courses.

Science Daily. "Larger Head Size May Protect Against Alzheimer's Symptoms." July 13, 2010. Web.

The Medical News. "Larger heads may protect against Alzheimer's disease: Study." July 13, 2010. Web.

MedlinePlus. "Could Having a Bigger Head Help Slow Alzheimer's?" July 12, 2010. Web.

Alzheimer's Association. Brain Health.