Introduction: Cerebral arterial, venous and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) pulsations are closely coupled and this produces pulsation dampening or the windkessel effect. Normal pressure hydrocephalus is a manifestation of the breakdown of this windkessel effect with altered CSF and venous pulsations being noted. The aim of this study was to show that dysfunction of the windkessel mechanism is also a component of normal aging and senile dementia.
Methods: The study group comprised 24 patients classified as either early senile dementia of Alzheimer's type (SDAT) or vascular dementia (VaD). The patients with dementia were compared with 12 age-matched non-cognitively impaired subjects, and 12 normal young individuals were compared with the normal aging group. MRI flow quantification was used to measure the nonpulsatile and pulsatile components of blood flow as well as the pulsation at the tentorial incisura.
Results: With normal aging blood flow decreased but arterial pulsations increased in volume by 49% (P=0.003). The CSF vented via the tentorial incisura does not change significantly with age and therefore increased venous pulsation is necessary. In patients with VaD the arterial pulse volume was higher by 24% and the straight sinus pulsation was higher by 57% than in normal aging subjects (P=0.05 and P=0.03, respectively). In patients with SDAT the total venous pulsation volumes were similar to those in normal aging subjects but there was less basal sinus pulsation.
Conclusion: Normal aging, SDAT and VaD are associated with alterations in venous pulsation due to a breakdown of the windkessel effect.