AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 29, Number 1, 2020

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Are Bigger Brains Better?

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When it comes to certain parts of the brain, bigger doesn’t necessarily equate to better memory. According to a new study led by Michigan State University, a larger hippocampus, a curved, seahorse-shaped structure embedded deep in the brain, does not always reliably predict learning and memory abilities in older adults.

It’s normal for the hippocampus to shrink as we age, but it’s much more pronounced in people with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists long believed that a bigger hippocampus meant a better memory until a 2004 study showed that its size does not always matter for memory in older adults. But scientists are only now starting to understand why.

This latest study shows the size or volume of the hippocampus is only a meaningful marker of learning for older people with more intact limbic white matter – the neural circuitry that connects the hippocampus to the rest of the brain.

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