White matter disease more damaging than previously feared

The cognitive damage caused by white matter disease appears to be more widespread than previously thought, according to a study published in the British Psychological Society's Journal of Neuropsychology today. 

Researchers from the Rotman Research Institute and the University of Toronto Scarborough in Canada undertook a meta-analysis of 27 past studies that compared healthy older adults to those who have been diagnosed with cognitive impairment due to white matter disease. Some 2,544 individuals were included in total.

It was found that patients with vascular cognitive impairment demonstrated significant deficits in cognitive ability compared to the healthy subjects. These issues were noted in areas including executive functioning, thinking speed, memory and language.

It had previously been thought that the disease impairs a broader range of cognitive areas.

Writing in our British Journal of Neuropsychology, lead author Brandon P Vasquez said: "Our findings add to a growing body of evidence that white matter disease is a discrete saboteur in the brain, impacting a large number of cognitive functions."

White matter disease targets small blood vessels in the brain, hardening the tiny arteries and restricting nutrients to the white matter. It has been linked to a fifth of the world's strokes and may contribute to up to 45 per cent of dementia cases.

The full journal title is 'The Neuropsychological profile of vascular cognitive impairment not demented: A meta analysis'.

Other authors: Konstantine K. Zakzanis

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