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Study Ties Mini-Strokes to Memory Loss

Effects appear to differ from those of full-blown stroke

MONDAY, Aug. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Screening for areas of damage from a possible mini-stroke could help predict memory loss in the elderly, say U.S. researchers.

Their finding comes from a study involving 679 people, aged 65 and older, who were tested for mild cognitive impairment, the stage between normal brain aging and dementia. The researchers used brain scans to check for white matter hyperintensities, which are small areas of damage caused by mini-stroke, and for areas of dead brain tissue caused by stroke.

People with mini-stroke damage were nearly twice as likely to have mild cognitive impairment that included memory loss, whereas those with stroke damage were more likely to have mild cognitive impairment that did not include memory loss, according to the report in the Aug. 11 issue of Neurology.

"The most interesting finding in this study was that white matter hyperintensities, or mini-strokes, predicted memory problems, while strokes predicted non-memory problems," study author Dr. Jose Luchsinger, of Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, said in a news release from the American Academy of Neurology.

"Traditionally, mini-strokes and strokes are thought to have a common origin and to more strongly predict non-memory cognitive problems," Luchsinger said. "There are an increasing number of studies challenging the idea that all white matter hyperintensities are similar to strokes."

The finding, he said, "could challenge traditional views that white matter hyperintensities are milder versions of stroke that are produced only by conditions such as high blood pressure."

Learning more about mini-strokes and being able to identify which are related to stroke and which are related to other conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease, could help find ways to prevent memory loss and other types of cognitive impairment, Luchsinger said.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about age-related memory loss.

SOURCE: American Academy of Neurology, news release, Aug. 10, 2009

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