'Senior Moments' May Be the Result of 'Silent Strokes,' Research Suggests

By Perry, Susan | MinnPost.com, January 4, 2012 | Go to article overview

'Senior Moments' May Be the Result of 'Silent Strokes,' Research Suggests


Perry, Susan, MinnPost.com


Some of the non-dementia memory loss experienced by older individuals may be due to "silent strokes," new research suggests.

Such strokes typically produce no noticeable symptoms when they're occurring. But they leave behind tiny pockets of dead cells in the brain, which can be picked up by high-resolution brain scans.

The study, which was led by researchers at New York's Columbia University and published Tuesday in the journal Neurology, found only an association between silent strokes and memory problems, not a direct causal link. Still, the findings are interesting, particularly since they also suggest that silent strokes can contribute to memory difficulties even if there is no accompanying shrinkage of the hippocampus, an area of the brain believed to play a key role in memory.

The findings also offer yet another reason for why we need to become more aggressive about stroke prevention.

The study's details

For the study, researchers recruited 658 people aged 65 and older. None had dementia, and most had no previous clinical history of stroke. All were given magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans, and one in four were found to have experienced previous silent strokes. (That's less than the one-in-three with silent strokes that other researchers have found among that age group, according to background information in this study.)

All the study's participants also underwent tests that measured their memory as well as their skill at cognitive tasks involving language, visual perception and information processing. An analysis of the results found that those in the silent-stroke group scored somewhat worse on these tests than the people who were stroke-free.

Interestingly, the size of the participants' hippocampus didn't matter. Previous studies have attributed a smaller hippocampus to age-related memory decline, but this study found that a smaller hippocampus and evidence of past silent strokes were independently associated with poorer memory skills.

These findings, therefore, support the idea that silent strokes have a negative effect on memory even in the absence of other biological markers (like a smaller hippocampus). The findings also point to "a critical need for stroke prevention," say the study's authors.

Strokes -- including the silent types -- "are a largely preventable brain injury, with clearly identified risk factors, and prevention programs," the study's authors conclude. "A public health push toward emphasizing stroke prevention may significantly decrease incidence of dementia."

Minnesota's efforts

Minnesota is doing better than most states when it comes to strokes. We have one of the lowest stroke death rates in the nation - - a rate that has been declining at a faster pace than the country as a whole. …

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