Stroke Tied to Long-Term Mental Decline

Deterioration centers around ability to think, plan, study finds

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Dennis Thompson

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, July 7, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Stroke victims often experience an immediate deterioration in their ability to think and reason. But a new study shows that a stroke also can have a more insidious, long-term effect on your mental processes.

People who suffer a stroke are more likely to experience an accelerated decline in their thinking and planning skills for at least six years following their medical emergency, according to a report published July 7 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

For every year following a stroke, patients have a 23 percent greater risk of suffering additional mental loss, compared to how they would have fared if they never had a stroke, said lead author Dr. Deborah Levine, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan Medical School and a staff physician with the Ann Arbor VA Healthcare System.

“We found that stroke survivors had a significantly faster rate of developing new cognitive [thinking] impairment following their stroke, compared to their pre-stroke rates,” Levine said.

Stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is disrupted, because of a clot or a hemorrhage. Each year in the United States, almost 800,000 people experience a stroke.

The study focused on nearly 24,000 participants in a larger U.S. National Institutes of Health-sponsored project that’s examining regional and racial differences in stroke deaths. The people were 45 or older and mentally healthy when they entered the study.

As part of the larger study, these people took part in an annual battery of brain-teasing tests that measured their ability to think, learn, remember and plan, Levine said. This allowed researchers to establish the extent to which their mental abilities were naturally eroding over time.

About 515 participants suffered a stroke during an average six-year follow-up period, the study reported.

The researchers found that after the stroke, these people suffered a significantly faster rate of long-term mental decline compared with their pre-stroke rate, Levine said.

The decline mainly centered around two domains primarily affected by stroke: global cognition and executive function, Levine said. Global cognition reflects a person’s overall ability to think and reason, while executive function reflects their ability to organize, prioritize, manage time and make decisions.

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