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Researchers have reportedly found that people with a spinal cord injury, as well as older healthy people, have similar brain activation during processing speed tasks, which supports the theory that accelerated cognitive aging can occur after spinal cord injury.
Per a press release cited by Pharmacy Times, people with chronic spinal cord injuries have an increased risk for cognitive deficits that resemble the deficits associated with the aging process — a theory called “accelerated cognitive aging.” The team had previously found that these deficits affect processing speed, new learning and memory, and verbal fluency, which are the same areas affected during aging.
This the first study to examine the neural mechanisms of higher order cognitive tasks of individuals with spinal cord injuries. Those conducting the study focused on processing speed, which is known to be affected by a spinal cord injury and aging, and is integral to cognitive function and everyday life activities.
The researching team at Kessler Foundation rehabilitation examined processing speed deficits and compared the brain activation patterns of individuals with spinal cord injuries with those of healthy age-matched controls. What they found was that the spinal cord injury group and older controls had similar activation patterns, but the spinal cord injury group and the age-matched controls had significant differences.
The researchers found big differences in brain activation between the spinal cord injury group and the age-matched control group. However, the spinal cord injury and older groups had similar patterns, including activation of the hippocampal, frontal, and parietal areas.
In the aforementioned press release, researcher Nancy Chiaravalloti, PhD, said: “This suggests that individuals with SCI are compensating for deficits in processing speed by relying on the areas of the brain involved in executive control and memory, which supports the theory of accelerated brain aging after SCI.”
And though the authors did note limitations, like sample size and level of injury, they said their research is an important contribution to understanding the impact of spinal cord injuries on cognition.
In the same press release, Glenn Wylie, PhD, noted: “Our ability to observe brain activation while the individual performs specific cognitive tasks provides new information on the mechanisms that underlie the cognitive deficits that we now know affect a substantial proportion of the SCI population. Developing treatments targeted to these deficits depends on our pursuit of this line of research, which may benefit other populations affected by delayed processing speed.”
Spinal cord injuries can be caused by a variety of circumstances, such as car accidents and truck accidents, and almost always present a variety of complications. Just like the brain, the spinal cord cannot regrow new cells. Therefore, victims of spinal cord injuries are often left to deal with lifelong disabilities. A recent estimate showed that the annual incidence of spinal cord injury is approximately 54 cases per one million people in the U.S., or about 17,730 new cases each year.