Just one unhealthy brain cell could harm others

Maintaining cognitive function is a crucial part of healthy senior living, and results of a new study offer some insight into how the brain ages. Researchers from England believe that damage to just one cell could harm those surrounding it, something that could cause scientists to rethink how neurons operate.

The study, published in Aging Cell, comes out of Newcastle University and looked at the brain cells of aging minds. The researchers, led by Thomas von Zglinicki, one of the school's professors, found that their neurons behaved much the same way human skin cells do, by influencing the surrounding cells.

"We want to continue our work looking at the pathways in human brains as this study provides us with a new concept as to how damage can spread from the first affected area to the whole brain," he said.

While Zglinicki admits more work needs to be done, the findings could serve as a step forward in the fight against cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, which are two of the most serious health concerns facing the aging population.

The findings also highlight the important role that an active mind has in a healthy lifestyle for seniors. Whether through continuing education or doing the crossword puzzle every day, working out the brain has proven to help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's, according to a 2003 study.

Finding methods to lower the risk of Alzheimer's is one of the most important areas of senior health. The disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, and currently affects about 5.4 million Americans, according to the Alzheimer's Association.