Scientists find new way to diagnose vascular dementia

Credit: Yerling Villalobos / Unsplash

In a study from UCLA, scientists found measuring a key blood molecule may help doctors diagnose whether or how much impaired blood flow to a patient’s brain is contributing to dementia or cognitive problems.

Cerebral small vessel disease, a common disease marked by damage to the cells lining the blood vessels in the brain, is a major driver of cognitive problems and dementia in older adults.

However, it can be difficult for doctors to determine whether a patient’s cognitive impairments stem predominately from Alzheimer’s disease or vascular problems, the two most common causes of dementia.

Doctors typically rely on MRIs or CAT scans to detect evidence of brain injury to help make that determination, but a certain amount of guesswork is involved.

In the current study, the team found that patients with higher levels of placental growth factor (PlGF)—a key molecule involved in the formation of new blood vessels, or angiogenesis—were more likely to have cognitive impairment or evidence of brain injury.

They suggested this may be a useful biomarker for identifying patients with cognitive impairment and dementia due to vascular brain injury.

The team tested 335 patients who underwent brain imaging, cognitive testing, and blood collection.

They found those in the top quartile for PlGF measurement were three times as likely to have cognitive impairment or dementia compared to those in the bottom quartile.

Every unit increase in total PlGF in the bloodstream was also associated with a 22% increase in the risk of having a cognitive impairment and a 16% increase in the risk of having imaging evidence of cerebral small vessel disease.

The team says the addition of a blood-based biomarker that is associated with the traditional measures of vascular injury could allow a doctor to distinguish the patient that has Alzheimer’s-predominant dementia versus a significant vascular contribution.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and Omega-3 fats and carotenoid supplements could improve memory.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about antioxidants that could help reduce dementia risk, and flavonoid-rich foods could improve survival in Parkinson’s.

The study was conducted by Jason Hinman et al and published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

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