Purpose: To prospectively compare indicators of structural brain damage and total cerebral blood flow in patients with late-onset dementia, subjects of the same age with optimal cognitive function, and young subjects.
Materials and methods: The institutional ethics committee approved the studies, and all participants (or their guardians) gave informed consent. The test group included 17 patients older than 75 years (four men, 13 women; median age, 83 years) and with a diagnosis of dementia according to the criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. The control group included 16 subjects (four men, 12 women; median age, 87 years) with optimal cognitive function, who were selected from among 599 elderly subjects enrolled in a population-based follow-up study, and 15 young healthy subjects (seven men, eight women; median age, 29 years). Measurements of intracranial and total brain volumes, structural brain damage, and cerebral blood flow were obtained with magnetic resonance imaging. Mean values were compared with the t test; medians, with the Mann-Whitney U test.
Results: Values for total brain volume were significantly smaller in elderly subjects (P < .001) but did not differ significantly between patients with dementia and subjects of the same age with optimal cognitive function (P = .69). Among the elderly, significantly higher scores for number and extent of white matter areas of signal hyperintensity (P = .028) and lower magnetization transfer ratios (P = .016) indicated greater structural brain damage in those with dementia. Cerebral blood flow was 246 mL/min lower (P < .001) in elderly subjects than in young subjects. In patients with dementia, cerebral blood flow was 108 mL/min lower than that in subjects of the same age with optimal cognitive function (551 vs 443 mL/min, P < .001).
Conclusion: The combined observations of more structural brain damage and lower cerebral blood flow in demented elderly individuals than in subjects of the same age with optimal cognitive function support the hypothesis that vascular factors contribute to dementia in old age.