Undetected Lesions Could Cause Symptoms of Old Age


Tiny, blocked blood vessels in the brain, undetectable by modern-day technology, could be to blame for tremors, slower walking and changes in posture typically associated with aging, researchers at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago have discovered.

Reporting their findings in the American Heart Association journal Stroke, lead author Aron S. Buchman and colleagues analyzed brain autopsies of more than 400 nuns and priests, who died at an average age of 88 and had donated their brains for post-mortem examination in 1994, according to a September 1 U.S. News and World Report article.

Buchman and his team discovered that 30% of them had microscopic brain lesions or infarcts that had not been diagnoses. Furthermore, they found that those who had the most trouble walking had multiple such lesions, and discovered that two-thirds of them “had at least one blood vessel abnormality, suggesting a possible link between the blocked vessels and the familiar signs of aging,” the American Heart Association said in a Thursday press release.

The lesions could not be detected using current scans, they said.

“This is very surprising,” Buchman, and associate professor of neurological sciences at the university, said in a statement. “There is a very big public health consequence because we’re not capturing this 30 percent who have undiagnosed small vessel disease that is not picked up by current technology. How would you even get them on your radar? We need additional tools in our toolkit.”

“Often the mild motor symptoms are considered an expected part of aging,” he added. “We should not accept this as normal aging. We should try to fix it and understand it. If there is an underlying cause, we can intervene and perhaps lessen the impact.”

Along with Buchman, co-authors of the study include Dr. Sue E. Leurgans, Dr. Sukriti Nag, Dr. David A. Bennett, and Dr. Julie A. Schneider, all of whom are also affiliated with Rush University Medical Center. The study was funded by The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).

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