Signs of cognitive decline can be detected by a magnetic resonance imaging technique in the brain even before symptoms appear, found a new study published online in the journal Radiology. The technique has the potential to serve as a biomarker in very early diagnosis of preclinical dementia.
The World Health Organization estimates that dementia affects more than 35 million people worldwide, a number expected to more than double by 2030. Problems in the brain related to dementia, such as reduced blood flow, might be present for years but are not evident because of cognitive reserve, a phenomenon where other parts of the brain compensate for deficits in one area. Early detection of cognitive decline is critical, because treatments for Alzheimer's disease, the most common type of dementia, are most effective in this early phase.
Researchers recently studied arterial spin labeling (ASL), a promising MRI technique that doesn't require injection of a contrast agent. ASL measures brain perfusion, or penetration of blood into the tissue.
"ASL MRI is simple to perform, doesn't require special equipment and only adds a few minutes to the exam," said study author Sven Haller, M.D., from the University of Geneva in Geneva, Switzerland.