Shrinking Brain


Some years before my mother was diagnosed with dementia, there was a brain scan. I thought there was a little too much space in there, the brain pulled further away from the skull, the brain folds too deep and the gaps too wide.

I sought a friend who was supposed to know about these things and asked my questions. My mother is slowing down, she seems less sharp. Does this scan indicate early dementia changes, perhaps?

No, no, he said. You cannot tell dementia from a brain scan. People can have less brain matter and still function normally. On the other hand, there can be dementia with a normal brain scan.

Surely this scan of a shrinking brain is consistent with my experience that she is slowing down? I asked.

No, he said. This scan looks normal to me. I cannot agree that there is any brain shrinkage.

Neither of us was wrong. I already knew she was changing and sensed the onset of dementia. I wanted the brain scan to support what I felt was happening. However, the scan might have passed as normal then, and it is true many older persons will have more space in their skills without having any symptoms of dementia.

14 thoughts on “Shrinking Brain”

  1. I completely understand this. When my mom’s dementia began, I needed proof because honestly, I thought I was imagining all of the little quirks of her personality change or what she no longer remembered. My siblings and I all justified it in many ways for a long time, until there was no denying it. So I feel you. I feel for you. You’re not alone.

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  2. I completely understand this too. There is so much medical professionals and technology cannot explain. Those who care for loved ones with dementia just know there is something wrong and want some sort of validation from the doctors. I’m thankful my mom’s physician was sensitive to that need, evidenced by the way he explained results and validated what I already knew to be true.

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  3. It is the actions that tell us something is not right. For my father it was how disoriented he was when we took him to New Zealand to visit my sister and realised it full face. It came like a bolt out of nowhere. I feel it is horrible to lose one’s mind really. All dignity does out the window with it. Only psychological evaluation tests serve as markers for us.

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  4. My sister with early onset dementia has been evaluated by neurologists in Boston MA and her brain does show shrinkage. Given her age at diagnosis (54) it is related to her dementia. Her short term memory and executive function are impacted by this type of brain damage. The psychological testings were also performed and they were extensive. They support the dementia diagnosis. What event caused us to get involved? Job performance and aggression. It took effort on my part to coordinate the medical appointments to get her the diagnosis and help. She could not have done that on her own.
    I am watching my 91 year old dad show signs of dementia but now we are talking age related. I have tool box of education to help him because of the caregiving provided to my sister.
    Thank you for your thought provoking post!

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    1. The brain scan was incidental and a followup of another issue. So although I thought she was behaving a little funny then, I didn’t think too much of it until I looked at the scan and thought it was odd, because it was different from earlier scans.

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  5. Unless that is a darkened photo of your mother’s brain scan, I’d say that it clearly shows cortical atrophy/shrinkage and a suggests probable underlying disease. I have seen a lot of brain scans; I used to work with a team researching early onset dementias. We still have so much to learn, but by the time a clinical diagnosis of a brain disease is given, family members can often predate its onset by many years.

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