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Researchers combine brain-imaging tool and stroke test to detect early signs of dementia

Previous research has shown that elderly patients with an increased risk of stroke have an accelerated rate of cognitive decline. Now researchers at University of California, Los Angeles have combined a brain-imaging tool and stroke risk assessment to detect signs of cognitive decline in people without current symptoms of dementia.

In the study, a group of healthy and mildly cognitively impaired individuals with an average age of 63 completed neuropsychological testing and physical assessments to determine their stroke risk using the Framingham Stroke Risk Score. Additionally, researchers injected participants with a chemical marker called FDDNP and used positron emission tomography (PET) to image their brains. According to a university release:

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 (e.g., ability to read a map), problem-solving and verbal reasoning.

The researchers also observed that FDDNP binding levels in the brain correlated with participants' cognitive performance. For example, volunteers who had greater difficulties with problem-solving and language displayed higher levels of the FDDNP marker in areas of their brain that control those cognitive activities.

"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... Researchers found that several individual factors in the stroke assessment stood out as predictors of decline in cognitive function, including age, systolic blood pressure and use of blood pressure–related medications.

The work appears in the April issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

Previously: How new imaging technologies may help advance early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, Alanna Shaikh talks about preparing for Alzheimer’s, Common genetic Alzheimer’s risk factor disrupts healthy older women’s brain function, but not men’s and Alzheimer’s disease: Why research is so critical

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