Researchers from Toronto Western Hospital have potentially discovered a major cause of dementia.
The surprising culprits are tiny “mini-strokes” happening silently in the brain, which damage the organ’s white matter and lead to cognitive decline.
Dr. Daniel Mandell of the University Health Network was the lead researcher on the study. He says that people didn’t realize they were having these strokes.
“We were very shocked when we found them,” he says. “These were people who thought they’d never had a stroke before. Their neurologists didn’t realize. All we knew beforehand is that the participants had white matter damage.”
White matter is composed of groups of nerve fibers that make up the inside of the human brain. About 50 percent of older adults show some white matter damage, but for the majority of people, the deterioration is minimal. When damage becomes severe, however, it causes white matter disease, which leads to cognitive decline.
These were people who thought they’d never had a stroke before.
Previous studies have established that the more white matter damage there is to the brain, the greater the risk that the patient will develop dementia.
Until now, though, researchers have had little knowledge as to what actually causes white matter disease in the first place.
The team of researchers from Toronto took MRI scans of five participants’ brains every week for 15 weeks in order to produce their findings.
The frequency of the scans ultimately allowed them to make their discovery.
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