Carotid narrowing tied to memory, thinking decline

By staff writers

April 22, 2014 — The narrowing of the carotid artery may be linked to problems in learning, memory, thinking, and decision-making, according to research to be presented at this week’s American Academy of Neurology annual meeting in Philadelphia.

A team of researchers led by Dr. Brajesh Lal of the University of Maryland found a higher risk of symptoms in patients with narrowing of the carotid artery than in patients with similar risk factors but no carotid artery narrowing.

The team studied 67 people with asymptomatic carotid stenosis (ACS) and a 50% reduction in the diameter of the artery, as well as 60 people with vascular risk factors but without ACS. The risk factors included diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and coronary artery disease, according to the team.

All study participants received extensive testing for overall thinking abilities and specific aspects of thinking, such as processing speed, learning, memory, decision-making, and language. The group of patients with ACS performed significantly worse on the overall memory and thinking tests, including tests for motor and processing speed, as well as learning and memory, according to the researchers. They did not find a difference in language scores between the two groups.

If these findings are confirmed in larger studies, they hold significant implications for new treatment targets and open the door for more questions, such as whether these patients should be treated more aggressively with medications, cognitive rehabilitation, or even surgery to open up the artery, Lal said in a statement. He anticipates a large number of follow-up studies to search for causes and the best treatment option for this newly identified morbidity associated with carotid narrowing, he added.