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.
The researchers identified 10-patients whose cognitive skills declined over two-years of observation and then matched these individuals by age and gender with 10 other patients whose cognitive skills were not in decline. After performing these functions, the researchers then analyzed study participants with diffusion tensor MRI scans for all 20-individuals taken before the two-year study began.
Researchers repeated their analysis on another separate group of 61-patients, this time with a more detailed measure of the integrity of the brain’s white matter. The second analysis showed that physicians were able to predict cognitive decline with 89 percent accuracy when analyzing the entire brain. The accuracy further rose to 95 percent when researchers analyzed specific parts of the brain more likely to show damage to white matter.
While there are no prescription drugs available to prevent or delay the onset of dementia, by being able to identify those with a higher risk of developing the condition within a few years can still prove to be beneficial. Using this knowledge, patients can make decision on their finances and living arrangements for when they are incapacitated or otherwise unable to make decisions for themselves.