A Simple Test That Can Preserve Brain Function In Older Women
Aging causes changes in the brain that can sometimes lead to structural abnormalities and decreases in blood flow that can lead to disease. Researchers noticed that small, white clusters of cells in the brains of individuals who had Alzheimer’s disease. They suspected that these deposits were somehow associated with decreased brain function. Until recently, these small conglomerations of proteins have not been well understood, but recent research on the brains of postmenopausal women signal the possibility of a simple blood test that could predict the risk of future memory problems and stroke in these patients.
The Role of WMH
MRI and CT scans of older people who had developed memory problems were found to have unusual structures of gnarled proteins in various sections of the brain. These clusters were given the name “white matter hyperintensities.” The cause and meaning of the WMH were not well understood, but test after test indicated they were complicit in the deterioration of brain function in these older people, as well as in the in the increased risk for strokes.
White Matter Hyperintensities
For many years, the research on Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia were focused on an analysis of brain tissue from deceased individuals. This research brought to light the dense protein gnarls in the brains of these patients that were thought to contribute to brain deterioration. Technology has only recently provided ways to determine the presence of these dense brain deposits in living subjects. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography, (CT scanning) allow researchers to see these images clearly. However, these tests are expensive and were not likely to be given routinely to the general aging population.
Many of the previous studies focused on testing older males. However, more recent studies included postmenopausal women, and these have indicated the same type of clustering of white matter hyperintensities, indicating that these clusters are a common feature of aging. The number and frequency of occurrence appear to be connected with a greater incidence of memory problems, such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, as well as with stroke.
Detecting Residual Traces in the Blood
A recent study published in the medical journal Neurology noted that thrombogenic microvesicles were found in the bloodstreams of postmenopausal women who developed these white matter hyperintensities four years later. The thrombogenic microvesicles appear to be shed by activated platelets that affect the brain’s structure. Recognizing these clusters of white matter hyperintensities can help physicians treat women and men who may be vulnerable to memory problems and other brain-related diseases in their later years. A blood test that can detect these components in the bloodstream could be an easy and cost-effective way to detect the possible onset of memory impairment in the future.
In coming years, individuals can expect to have a simple blood test that will detect the residual compounds in the body produced by WMH and will be able to implement measures to help them maintain brain function and prevent stroke so that they can live longer, healthier lives well into their later years.