Burgmans, van Boxtel, Vuurman, et al. (2009) published an interesting study titled “The Prevalence of Cortical Gray Matter Atrophy May Be Overestimated in the Healthy Aging Brain” on how subclinical cognitive disorders may affect correlations between age and cortical volume. Correlations between cortical gray matter volume and age were found in 30 elderly with cognitive decline after 6 years, but not in 28 elderly without cognitive decline. This study is important, and demonstrates that preclinical cognitive disorders may affect cortical brain volumes before being detectable by neuropsychological tests. However, we are not convinced by the conclusions: “… gray matter atrophy … is to a lesser extent associated with the healthy aging process, but more likely with brain processes underlying significant cognitive decline” (p. 547) and “… cortical gray matter atrophy in the aging brain may be overestimated in a large number of studies on healthy aging” (p. 547). We analyzed the cross-sectional MR data (n = 1,037) as well as longitudinal data from a sample of very well-screened elderly followed by cognitive testing for 2 years. In the cross-sectional data, the correlations between age and brain volumes were generally not much reduced when the upper age limit was lowered. This would not be expected if age-related incipient cognitive disorders caused the correlations given that the incidence of cognitive decline increased with age. Longitudinally, 1-year atrophy was identified in all tested regions. It is likely that cortical brain atrophy is manifested in cognitively normal elderly without subclinical cognitive disorders.
Keywords: aging, atrophy, cerebral cortex, hippocampus, cognition