Objective: (1) To establish the range of cerebral atrophy across the adult age spectrum in optimally healthy, rigorously evaluated individuals. (2) To determine, across the age spectrum, the relation of gender and cerebral atrophy (as measured by ventricular enlargement) to cognitive function.
Design: Cross-sectional comparison by age and gender.
Setting: Ambulatory research unit.
Participants: Sixty-four healthy men (mean age +/- SD = 49 +/- 18 yr) and 43 healthy women (51 +/- 18 yr) volunteers enrolled in a longitudinal study of healthy aging. The population was selected for optimal health; all were rigorously screened to exclude medical and psychiatric illness.
Main outcome measures: Brain atrophy by CT scan and cognitive function by standardized neuropsychological testing.
Results: After correction for inter-subject variability in cranial volume, women had smaller lateral, but not third, ventricles. For both genders, there were significant differences with age in ventricular volume. After an approximately constant 20% increase in ventricular volume per decade in both genders, a precipitous increase in volume was found beginning in the fifth decade in men and in the sixth decade in women. In men and women, there was a significant negative correlation between ventricular volume and the sum of performance scale scores on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WPSS) but not in the sum of the verbal scale scores (WVSS). However, after controlling for age, ventricular volume no longer significantly contributed to the relation between age and WPSS.
Conclusions: In unequivocally healthy individuals, gender plays an important role in age-associated central cerebral atrophy as measured by progressive ventricular enlargement. Increase in ventricle volume independent of age, does not explain normal age-related declines seen in WPSS scores.