GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Brain scans and cognitive tests in healthy adults have given Richard Stockton College professor Jessica Fleck a benchmark to help identify early signs of how and when brain activity begins to decline.
Fleck, an associate professor of psychology at Stockton, began her study of aging brains last year, using local residents as her test subjects. The results of her first series of tests show that even in otherwise normal, healthy adults, an EEG brain scan could clearly show the difference in people with higher and lower cognitive skills.
“It was not always related to age, though age can be a factor,” she said. “There is a relationship between brain activity and cognitive ability, in the frontal lobes in particular.”
Fleck said the findings of the Healthy Brain, Healthy Mind study could help with early identification and treatment of problems such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Last summer, Fleck and several students tested 100 area residents ages 50 to 64 using an EEG brain scan and a series of “brain teaser” type tests that asked them to memorize a series of words or numbers. Not all of the participants met all of the criteria for the test, but the results of 66 were used for the study.
Individual participants did not get their results but were notified if a potential problem was identified. Fleck said there were some participants in their 50s whose brain activity was not as strong as it should be for their age.
“Changes may have started even 20 years before you actually notice it,” Fleck said. “If that is something we can detect, we can learn how to better respond.”
The average age of the first group of participants was 67, and Fleck said some were aware that their memory was not as good as it had been.
“There was a significant relationship between what people self-reported and their test results,” she said. “If people think they are having a problem, they should follow up with their doctor.”
Fleck plans to continue testing the control group every year or so to monitor their progress as long as she can.
Based on her results, she is also beginning a second study on younger people ages 45 to 64 and is looking for volunteers. She said she is especially looking for African Americans and Hispanics to provide more diversity. She said the rate of hypertension and Alzheimer’s is higher in those groups, so their participation would be extremely helpful to the study.
Interested participants must be right-handed because brain waves are different in left-handed people. They must have no history of concussions, brain injury or dementia and have normal or corrected hearing and vision.
Each round of testing consists of two sessions and lasts for about 90 minutes. The first session involves wearing a hairnet of electrodes and getting a brain scan, then filling out a questionnaire about everyday behavior. The second session is a series of brain exercises.
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