Science has some good news for dementia patients. A new study from researchers at UCLA and Washington University in St. Louis demonstrated that magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans, when used in conjunction with image-analyzing software, can determine whether an individual’s dementia is caused by Alzheimer’s disease or by traumatic brain injury. The MRI study was published Oct. 29 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, the study involved 40 UCLA neurology patients with an average age of about 68 years who had a history of traumatic brain injury and later developed memory problems.
Researchers in the MRI study discovered that traumatic brain injury is associated with the greatest injury to the ventral diencephalon brain area associated with learning and emotion. In contrast, the hippocampus, which is associated with memory and emotions and which suffers the greatest atrophy in Alzheimer’s disease, was the least impacted brain region in those with traumatic brain injury.
Although Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 20 to 40 percent of dementia cases have other origins. Other common causes of dementia include traumatic brain injury, stroke and Parkinson’s, Lewy Body and Huntington’s diseases. Correctly diagnosing the underlying cause of dementia, an umbrella term for a cluster of symptoms involving impaired memory, reasoning, communication, motor and social skills, and ability to perform activities of daily living, is critically important in terms of patient care and outcomes. Inaccurately diagnosed dementia can prevent patients from receiving appropriate treatment and may cause them to miss out on potentially beneficial clinical trials. This new MRI study has demonstrated a way to begin to narrow down future dementia diagnoses.
An estimated 5.8 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, which is the nation’s sixth most common cause of death. Traumatic brain injury, which involves a blow or jolt to the head that interrupts normal brain function and can range from mild (concussion) to severe, is also a leading cause of injury and death. While most traumatic brain injuries are mild, about 2.9 million traumatic brain injury-related emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and deaths occurred in 2014.
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