Texas Aging and Longevity Center
Texas Aging and Longevity Center

MRI Scanning Older Adults

All MRI screening of older adults requires the same levels of training and technical expertise as other MRI research requires. 
Mobility and Accessibility
  • Ask about accessibility or mobility limitations.
  • Email participants a printable handout with parking, directions, & researcher contact information.
  • Have a researcher meet the participant and lead them to the scanner location.
Safety Screenings
  • Older adults are likely to have more reasons that preclude them from participating and have a higher dropout rate. The following screening items should be considered-though decisions are nuanced, depending on the part of the body that is being scanned. 
  • Send the safety screening to participants ahead of time.
  • Talk to the participant on the phone ahead of time to find out who is filling out the screening form. Due to vision impairments and technology preferences, participants may have a spouse, family member, or friend help them with the form.
  • Fill out the screening form for a second time with the participant on the day of the scan.
  • Be particularly vigilant when going through their medical history and screening forms.
  • Older adults have had more surgeries and may have changing medication lists. Ensure the information you have is thorough and up-to-date.
  • Check if they wear glasses/contacts. Not all glasses are MR safe. Some scanning centers have MR safe goggles that can be fitted with the participant’s prescription.
  • During screening, several items are more likely to be found in older adults. Go through these items multiple times, worded in different ways, to ensure that you have an accurate report and the participant can be scanned safely. These include but are not limited to:
    • Tattoos
      • Permanent makeup/microblading
      • Tattoos that were done overseas and/or are over 30 years old
    • Medications
      • Ensure that the you have the most up-to-date list in case you need to provide it this information to first responders in an emergency
    • Implants and surgeries
      • Aneurysm clips
      • Pacemakers
      • The locations of pins and screws from prior surgeries
    • Hearing aids need to be removed prior to scanning
    • Discuss the patient’s prior work experience
      • For example, if they ever worked as a welder the possibility of having a metal object in their body is higher and they cannot be scanned.
    • Previous substance use/abuse/dependence over time can lead to brain changes. Depending on your research question, consider asking participants about this (if covered in your IRB Research Proposal and Consent Form).
  • Ask the participant if you can talk to a caregiver/family member/spouse or their doctor if they are unsure of any answers.
Budget Extra Time
  • Factor in more time to go over the screening form, more time for changing into different clothing for the scan, and more time to set up participants on the scanner table. 
  • Encourage participants to use the restroom before going into the scanner.
  • After scanning, have the participant take their time sitting up slowly before standing up from the scanning table. Often participants may feel lightheaded if they have been lying down in the scanner for a long time.
Scanner Tasks
  • Have participants practice tasks outside of the scanner first.
  • Ensure that task wording is simple, jargon-free, & easy to understand.
Considerations During the Scan
  • Make sure the table is lowered sufficiently and provide cushioning/pads and a blanket for their comfort.
  • If using an intercom system, ensure that the volume is clear and comfortable for participant prior to running any scans.
  • If the participant has hearing loss, consider talking to them from the scanner room instead of the control room.
  • Continue to remind the participant to use the squeeze ball to communicate with the researchers and to stop the scan at any time.
  • Talk to participants between each task if you need them to stay awake.
  • Remind participants that even very small movements can influence the scanning results. Tell them to make small adjustments between scans if needed.
  • Check that images from the Localizer and T1 scans look good and do not need to be repeated (due to movement artifacts) before moving on to any functional tasks. Older adults may have changes in their brain relative to healthy younger adults, so it is important to have clear structural scans for data analysis.
Considerations for Analysis
  • If comparing ‘healthy’ older adults as controls to a patient population, it may be useful to test for mild cognitive impairment. Both quick to administer and widely-used, the Mini-mental State Exam 1 and the Montreal Cognitive Assessment 2 can be used to broadly assess cognitive function.
  • Age-related slowing of the BOLD signal has been found. 3
  • Age-related changes in brain volume are another consideration. 4
  • Age-specific templates have been created that may provide less biased tissue classification estimates for older adults. 5

                                    From Fillmore et al. (2015)                  

From Fillmore et al. (2015)
Scanning Resources at The University of Texas at Austin
  • Researchers interested in scanning older adults at UT Austin need to undergo the proper training to scan participants themselves or find a collaborator who is trained to use the scanner. There are no imaging technicians to run scans for researchers.
  • Visit the website for the Biomedical Imaging Center.
  • The Biomedical Imaging Center Wiki provides safety, documentation, procedures, and training information.

                                 UT's Biomedical Imaging Center

                                 UT's Biomedical Imaging Center                                                                   

Special thanks to contributors Andreana Haley, Ph.D. and Stephanie Grasso, M.A., CCC-SLP

1. Folstein, M. F., Folstein, S. E., & McHugh, P. R. (1975). “Mini-mental state”: A practical method for grading the cognitive state of patients for the clinician. Journal of Psychiatric Research12(3), 189-198.
2. Nasreddine, Z. S., Phillips, N. A., Bédirian, V., Charbonneau, S., Whitehead, V., Collin, I., ... & Chertkow, H. (2005). The Montreal Cognitive Assessment, MoCA: A brief screening tool for mild cognitive impairment. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society53(4), 695-699.
3. Hutchison, J. L., Lu, H., & Rypma, B. (2012). Neural mechanisms of age-related slowing: the ΔCBF/ΔCMRO2 ratio mediates age-differences in BOLD signal and human performance. Cerebral Cortex23(10), 2337-2346.
4. Resnick, S. M., Pham, D. L., Kraut, M. A., Zonderman, A. B., & Davatzikos, C. (2003). Longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging studies of older adults: A shrinking brain. Journal of Neuroscience23(8), 3295-3301.
5. Fillmore, P. T., Phillips-Meek, M. C., & Richards, J. E. (2015). Age-specific MRI brain and head templates for healthy adults from 20 through 89 years of age. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience7, 44.