As humans age, brain cells lose some of their volume and the brain shrinks slowly, subtly over time. Brain cells and their connections are scaled back especially when they are not used. This process of atrophy usually begins after age 30 and continues each year. According to a new study spearheaded by the University of Oulu and the University of Cambridge in Finland, the average speed of brain atrophy of healthy individuals is 0.5 percent per year.
The team of researchers also discovered a striking difference between healthy participants taking NO mind-altering drugs and schizophrenia patients taking antipsychotic drugs.
Over a nine-year follow-up period, the researchers found that antipsychotic medications speed up brain atrophy, accelerating the degeneration of brain cells. In fact, antipsychotic medications were associated with a 40 percent increase in brain atrophy per year. (Antipsychotic medications shrank brain cell volume of schizophrenia patients by roughly 0.7 percent each year.)
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