Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

Vanderbilt study links marker to cognitive decline in the elderly

By Meg Dickens

A recent Vanderbilt University Medical Center study published in Neurology suggests that the fluid-filled spaces around the brain’s small vessels, called perivascular spaces, shown on older adults’ MRIs are likely not as harmless as experts thought.

Enlarged perivascular spaces often have a strong link to the cognitive part of the brain. The study linked Small Vessel Disease, white matter hyperintensities, and cognition. This link includes language, information processing, memory, flexible thinking, self-control, and space perception.

Researchers found that the next substantial link is between enlarged perivascular spaces, information processing, and executive functioning. This is to say that these perivascular spaces have a link to cognitive decline such as Alzheimer’s Disease.
“Our work shows perivascular spaces are not clinically benign,” said Vanderbilt Memory & Alzheimer’s Center Director Angela Jefferson. “These areas contributed to worse cognitive health in a way that was distinct from the other markers of small vessel disease. That result was unexpected and emphasizes that enlarged perivascular spaces deserve further study.”

Many of these markers come from average health problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes. These Small Vessel Disease markers can be treated and prevented. This means that SVD is to some extent preventable.

Alzheimer’s is an irreversible, progressive brain disease. According to Alzheimer’s Tenessee, more than 110 thousand Alzheimer’s cases were diagnosed in Tennessee in 2018, and experts estimate that approximately 5.5 million Americans age 65 and older are Alzheimer’s victims. Look out for signs of Alzheimer’s in friends and family. These include memory loss, trouble planning, difficulty speaking or writing, confusion, and more.

• Disruptive memory loss

• Planning problems

• Difficulty with familiar tasks

• Confusion about time/ place

• Trouble understanding images

• Problems with words

• Misplacing things and losing the ability to re trace steps

• Poor judgment

• Withdrawal

• Mood and personality changes

The Vanderbilt study was funded by the Alzheimer’s Association, the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Vanderbilt Clinical Translational Science Award and the Vanderbilt Memory & Alzheimer’s Center.