/ Modified feb 19, 2014 9:17 a.m.

UA Researchers: Brain Images to Understand Dementia, Alzheimer's

Identifying factors that determine how well someone ages may help figure out ways to treat, or even prevent, age-related memory impairments.

(VIDEO: AZPM)

Lee Ryan and Gene Alexander take pictures of people’s brains.

These images help them to understand how people learn new things, recall information, and form memories, and how all of that changes as one ages.

“The thing we know about aging is it’s complicated,” said Lee Ryan,, an associate professor in the University of Arizona Department of Psychology.

Researchers are learning that a host of factors from genetics, to diet, and conditions such as cardiovascular disease and obesity can physically impact one’s brain, and impair memory and cognition as one gets older.

Ryan’s colleague, Gene Alexander, said the two work on neuroimaging the brain to understand, “Why some people do well as they age and others don’t.” Identifying the factors that determine how well someone ages may help researchers figure out ways to treat, or even prevent, age-related memory impairments.

This could prove critical as more baby boomers age, and increasingly larger numbers of elderly people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s, Lee said, will be “a huge problem” in the U.S. by 2050.

Lee and Alexander were the driving force behind the second annual Conference on Successful Aging, which will focus on strategies for reducing the risk of developing age-related dementia and Alzheimer's.

The conference will be held this Friday, Feb. 21, and is open to the public.

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