Our memories are something we all want to hold on to. Trauma, disease, and aging can result in memory loss, language problems, and other symptoms of cognitive decline. In addition to that, a new study has found that a disease of the small vessels in the brain can be a major contributor to memory loss.
Blood vessels are very important for delivering oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the body. Small blood vessels reduce the amount of blood that is able to reach important tissues and organs. These small blood vessels also increase the likelihood of bleeding. To make things worse, small blood vessels can become abnormal with age, or with conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
This decrease in the amount of oxygenated blood leads to cell damage, especially in brain cells used to communicate with each other.
The study in question included 331 volunteers 60 and older. All participants were from a small rural village in coastal Ecuador called Atahualpa. Each subject was given a cognitive test and brain MRIs to examine four main components of small vessel disease. These components included evidence of micro-bleed and micro-strokes. A scoring system was created to help better assess risk. Scores ranged from zero points, signifying no signs of small vessel disease, to four points, signifying severe small vessel disease.
Researchers found that 61 percent of the subjects had a score of zero points, 20 percent had a score of one point, 12 percent had a score of two points, five percent had a score of three points, and two percent had a score of four points.
A correlation was seen with higher scores relating to a greater cognitive decline. It was also found that each individual component of severe vessel disease predicted cognitive decline.
In many cases, small vessel disease in the brain is a consequence of atherosclerosis and occurs in a similar fashion to narrowing of larger blood vessels found elsewhere in the body. The accumulation of plaque, inflammation, and chronic damage over a long period of time is what leads to detrimental side effects such as stroke.
Many adults with small vessel disease will not have any noticeable symptoms, sometimes called “silent” small vessel disease. However, there is no telling when the body will be unable to compensate for this decreased blood supply, potentially leading to cognitive impairment over time.