Scientists have developed a new brain-imaging tool that along with stroke risk assessment can identify signs of cognitive decline early on in individuals who don’t yet show symptoms of dementia.
The connection between stroke risk and cognitive decline has been well established. Individuals with higher stroke risk,as measured by factors like high blood pressure,have traditionally performed worse on tests of memory,attention and abstract reasoning.
The new study demonstrated that not only stroke risk,but also the burden of plaques and tangles,as measured by a University of California,Los Angeles brain scan,may
influence cognitive decline.
The imaging tool used in the study was developed at UCLA and reveals early evidence of amyloid beta “plaques” and neurofibrillary tau “tangles” in the brain – the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.
The study,published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease,demonstrated that taking both stroke risk and the burden of plaques and tangles into accout may offer a more powerful assessment of factors determining how people are doing now and will do in the future.
“The findings reinforce the importance of managing stroke risk factors to prevent cognitive decline even before clinical symptoms of dementia appear,” said first author Dr David Merrill.
According to the researchers,the UCLA brain-imaging tool could prove useful in tracking cognitive decline over time and offer additional insight when used with other assessment tools.
For the study,the team assessed 75 people who were healthy or had mild cognitive impairment,a risk factor for the future development of Alzheimer’s. The average age of the participants was 63.
The individuals underwent neuropsychological testing and physical assessments to calculate their stroke risk using the Framingham Stroke Risk Profile,which examines age,gender,smoking status,systolic blood pressure,diabetes,atrial fibrillation (irregular heart rhythm),use of blood pressure medications,and other factors.
The study found that greater stroke risk was significantly related to lower performance in several cognitive areas,including language,attention,information-processing speed,memory,visual-spatial functioning (eg,ability to read a map),problem-solving and verbal reasoning.
“Our findings demonstrate that the effects of elevated vascular risk,along with evidence of plaques and tangles,is apparent early on,even before vascular damage has occurred or a diagnosis of dementia has been confirmed,” said the study’s senior author,Dr Gary Small.