A recent study conducted by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of California San Francisco suggests that magnetic radial imaging (MRI) could detect the early stages of dementia up to three-years before it occurs in some patients. The modestly sized study predicted with 89 percent accuracy who would go on to develop dementia within three years.
Presented at the Radiological Society of North America meeting in Chicago, the findings suggest that physicians may soon be able to use widely available diagnostics to inform patients about their risk of developing dementia before symptoms present themselves. MRI brain scans are widely available in most hospitals and give doctors insight to the patient’s brain. The researchers in this study used a technique called diffusion tensor imaging to assess the health of the brain’s white matter, which encompasses the cables that enable different parts of the brain to communicate with each other.
“Diffusion tensor imaging is a way of measuring the movement of water molecules along white matter tracts,” said ead author Cyrus A. Raji in a media interview. “If water molecules are not moving normally it suggests underlying damage to white tracts that can underlie problems with cognition.” Researchers discovered that patients who eventually experienced cognitive declines showed significantly more damage to the white matter of their brains.