Dutch researcher Niels Prins has discovered that elderly people with a lot of damage to the small blood vessels in the brain have a greater chance of developing dementia or depression. The damage is visible on MRI scans as white matter lesions and infarcts of the brain.
Elderly people with serious white matter abnormalities and infarcts were found to deteriorate more quickly in their cognitive functioning than peers with fewer abnormalities. In particular, the processing of information was worse in the group with more white matter lesions and infarcts. This group also had an increased risk of developing dementia and depression.
Over a period of three years, one-third of the elderly people investigated exhibited an increase in white matter lesions. These elderly people had an increased risk of developing a stroke and the cognitive functioning deteriorated more quickly. Furthermore, a serious increase in the number of abnormalities in the white matter increased the risk of dementia and depression.
Prins used data from the Rotterdam Scan Study for his research. This is a long-term population study among more than 1000 healthy volunteers aged 60 years and older, and is a joint initiative from the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and the Department of Neurology at the Erasmus MC in Rotterdam.
All of the participants underwent an MRI scan at the start of the study and 3.5 years later. Together with his colleagues, Prins assessed these scans for the degree of damage to small blood vessels in the brain.
The researchers followed the participants over a period of five years to see whether they developed dementia or depression. The participants also had to perform cognitive tests at various intervals in the study.
Whether the prevention and treatment of damage to the small blood vessels in the brain can prevent dementia and depression in the elderly, is a subject for future research.
Source: Eurekalert & othersLast reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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