The Takeaway: Silent Strokes Can Cause Memory Loss; Talking Life Expectancy With Patients In Good Health

Silent Strokes Could Contribute to Alzheimer’s: Well, this is scary news-nearly 25 percent of older adults have experienced a silent stroke, according to a new study. And while silent strokes might not be immediately or outwardly detectable, they could be the cause of future memory loss.

Silent stroke is a type of ischemic stroke, which occurs when a blood clot in a vessel interrupts the supply of blood to the brain. Things like high blood pressure, obesity and high cholesterol are the main culprits-and because these are growing problems in America, we’re seeing more people suffering strokes at earlier ages, researchers say.

While silent strokes may seem harmless on the surface-after all, they have no symptoms-such strokes can lead to accumulative brain damage over time. But “by controlling vascular symptoms, we can prevent stroke, which may be a viable way of preventing cognitive changes of aging,” said Adam Brickman, assistant professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University’s Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging, and co-author of the study.

I think what’s emerging is a story in which vascular disease contributes to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.

The study, published in the journal Neurology, looked at 658 older adults, with an average age of 79. Participants were given MRI brain scans and cognitive tests. Those whose brain scans showed evidence of a previous silent stroke also performed more poorly on the tests.

When The Diagnosis Is ‘Old Age:’ Paula Span at the New York Times ‘New Old Age’ blog explores a new trend in thinking about “the way health care professionals communicate with their very old patients.” Apparently, some doctors are now advocating discussing life expectancy and likelihood of death with certain patients, even if they don’t have terminal illness or health problems. “The researchers favor broaching the subject with anyone who has a life expectancy of less than 10 years or has reached age 85,” Span notes.

So will patients benefit from being told, in essence, ‘You’re fine-but you’ll die in six years?’ Dr. Alexander K. Smith and his colleagues, who co-authored a New England Journal of Medicine article on the issues, believe they will.

This is about empowering patients to make informed choices and encouraging individual decision-making,” he said.

Understanding how much time remains could help older patients “make the most of those years” and “ward off interventions, tests and treatments whose benefits, if any, are years away but whose harms could be immediate.”

Friday Quick Hits: 

  • A new study links taking statins to a lower chance of dying from prostate cancer. The findings don’t prove that the drugs ward off cancer, researchers note, but suggest that getting cholesterol levels under control might help reduce risk.

Photo: Carson Ganci/Design Pics/Corbis