The link between dementia and “ministrokes”

June 25, 2008 by  

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Is there a link between dementia and ministrokes? This seems very likely, according to researchers who conducted studies on several people with dementia or cognitive impairment.

What is dementia?

Dementias are a group of neurological disorders characterized by progressive decline of cognitive and brain functions. Dementias take different forms. The most well-known and most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Other types include Lewy Body dementia, Creutzfeldt-Jakob and Parkinson’s disease. Some of these types can co-occur together resulting in a condition called mixed dementia.

Our mental capabilities decline as we grow older. However, in case of dementia, this mental decline can occur even in younger people and goes abnormally fast. In its later stages, the disease renders its victims incapacitated and incapable of carrying out normal daily activities.

What are “ministrokes?”

Ministrokes are also called transient ischemic attacks or silent strokes. The symptoms of transient strokes are temporary and often go away. Silent or asymptomatic strokes happen without the patients being aware of their occurrence and are associated with brain abnormalities are aneurysms. Hypertension and diabetes may also cause ministrokes

Because of their transitory or asymptomatic nature, ministrokes are more common than initially thought. Though they do not manifest in serious symptoms, multiple ministrokes present a real danger because “the cumulative effect reaches critical mass” and brain damage occurs.

Where is the link?

In one study, Dutch and American researchers discovered aneurysms, benign brain tumors and asymptomatic strokes using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in 2000 older adults. Their results indicate links between silent strokes, symptomatic strokes and dementia.

In another study, researchers of the University of Washington autopsied brains of patients with dementia and found evidence of damage to the small vessels in the brain which is indicative of injuries probably brought about by multiple small strokes.

Unlike previous studies on dementia, this recent study included patients from different ethnic groups and from a large range of educational and professional levels. It ran for over ten years, from 1994 to 2006. The study followed up 3400 participants with or without dementia or cognitive impairment. About a third of the patients died during this period and 221 autopsies were performed.

The study concludes that

small blood vessel damage caused by hypertension and diabetes may be among the leading causes of dementia.”

These recent developments indicate a need for people to be more aware of the dangers of ministrokes. Most often, “silent” strokes may not be necessary silent. We need to recognize the symptoms, no matter how mild.

According to the American Stroke Association, signs of a potential stroke include:

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