A Medical University of South Carolina researcher’s finding that Alzheimer’s disease damages the brains of men and women in different ways could be a key to more effective treatments for the terrible illness that robs people of their memories before it eventually kills.

Dr. Maria Spampinato, associate professor of radiology, was lead researcher for a five-year study that analyzed data for more than 100 people who had mild cognitive impairment that became Alzheimer’s disease. Magnetic resonance images of patient brains were studied at the time of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis as well as 12 months before and a year afterward.

The study found that in the year leading up to an Alzheimer’s diagnosis women had significantly more brain atrophy, or wasting away. It also discovered that the shrinkage happened in different areas of the brain for men and women. Although atrophy happened earlier in women, men eventually suffered the same amount of brain damage in a shorter period of time.

“You don’t expect those differences in rate of loss. I was surprised,” she said.

Read more in upcoming editions of The Post and Courier.