New Clues as to Why Some Older People May Be Losing Their Memory

New research links ‘silent strokes,’ or small spots of dead brain cells, found in about one out of four older adults to memory loss in the elderly. The study is published in the January 3, 2012, print issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“The new aspect of this study of memory loss in the elderly is that it examines silent strokes and hippocampal shrinkage simultaneously,” said study author Adam M. Brickman, PhD, of the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.

For the study, a group of 658 people ages 65 and older and free of dementia were given MRI brain scans. Participants also underwent tests that measured their memory, language, speed at processing information and visual perception. A total of 174 of the participants had silent strokes.

The study found people with silent strokes scored somewhat worse on memory tests than those without silent strokes. This was true whether or not people had a small hippocampus, which is the memory center of the brain.

“Given that conditions like Alzheimer’s disease are defined mainly by memory problems, our results may lead to further insight into what causes symptoms and the development of new interventions for prevention. Since silent strokes and the volume of the hippocampus appeared to be associated with memory loss separately in our study, our results also support stroke prevention as a means for staving off memory problems,” said Brickman.

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

The American Academy of Neurology, an association of 24,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, migraine, multiple sclerosis, brain injury, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy. For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit http://www.aan.com.

Citation