Here is some important health news out of the world-famous Mayo Clinic. Researchers say a common condition of the brain believed to be a harmless part of aging could really be a disease that changes an older adult’s brain function. Its name: “leukoaraiosis.”
This mouthful means that the brain has tiny spots that look like white dots in a MRI scan. These tiny dots are areas of the brain where oxygen hasn’t been reaching. This alone doesn’t sound too positive. The results are published now online in “Radiology.”
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In a press release, the researchers explained that there has been controversy over these spots seen in MRI scans. In the past, leukoaraiosis has been considered a benign part of the aging process, like gray hair and wrinkles.
You might hear leukoaraiosis called something akin to aliens — unidentified bright objects or, simply, UBOs. What is happening is that blood vessels become diseased and create small areas of damage in the brain’s white matter. The important point here is that such damage is common in people over 60.
So we thought it was part of aging. But now we suspect not.
The study lasted from 2006 and 2010 and included patients who had no issues with cognition. Leukoaraiosis appeared in 18 people at 25 milliliters, while in 18 people of the same age, the amount was below five milliliters. Patients did brain tasks like identifying word pairs and visual tests — meanwhile, an MRI was measuring changes in the brain.
Everyone had similar success in the test, but the two groups did have different “brain activation patterns.” People who had the 25 milliliters had certain things going on, like less activation in the area of the brain that processes language. On the other hand, they had more activation in the visual area during that test.
Our complicated brains have different systems, and each can do things differently in the face of disease. One thing is known: damage in the white matter can disrupt the whole language process. Basically, the researchers believe that we must pay attention to leukoaraiosis. It is not just a harmless aspect of the aging process most of us dread so much.
Instead, it’s an actual condition that is changing brain function. And it doesn’t get much more important than that. Speak to your doctor about ways that this condition could be prevented, if you are concerned by it. There is newfound evidence that high blood pressure can play a role in its development.