A new study has shown that patients with high blood pressure are at an increased risk of developing dementia.
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The study, which was recently published in Cardiovascular Research, shows for the first time that the very early signs of neurological damage can be detected using an MRI scan, before any noticeable symptoms of dementia have developed.
High blood pressure is a chronic condition that leads to progressive organ damage and researchers know that most cases of Alzheimer’s are related to chronic exposure to vascular risk factors.
Currently, clinicians only treat patients with dementia once they have display signs of the disease. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that once the signs of brain damage are present, it may be too late to reverse the neurodegenerative process.
Clinicians still lack procedures they can use to assess disease progression markers that could flag up pre-symptomatic changes and identify people at risk of developing dementia.
Now, researchers have screened patients (aged 40 to 65 years) admitted to the Department of Angiocardioneurology and Translational Medicine of the I.R.C.C.S in Italy who had no sign of structural damage and no dementia diagnosis.
The patients underwent a clinical examination to assess their hypertensive status and any associated organ damage. They also underwent an MRI scan to assess microstructural damage.
The researchers used a specific group of tests to gain insights into the neurocognitive profile of the patients and looked for any signs of brain changes in the white matter microstructure of hypertensive patients that were associated with impairment of the related cognitive functions.
They found that hypertensive patients demonstrated significant changes in three specific white matter fiber-tracts.
Those patients also scored worse in the cognitive domains ascribable to parts of the brain that those fiber-tracts connect. They had decreased performances in executive function, processing speed, memory and related learning task.
Using MRI to track the white matter fibers, the team found early signs of damage in hypertensive patients that are not detectable using conventional imaging methods.
Since these changes can be detected while patients are pre-symptomatic, medications could be used to treat these patients before any further deterioration in brain function occurs.
Of course, further studies will be necessary, but we think that the use of tractography will lead to the early identification of people at risk of dementia, allowing timely therapeutic interventions."
Lorenzo Carnevale, First Author