This article is about the most common aging brain problem that you may have never heard of.
While leading a fall prevention workshop a few years ago, I mentioned that an older person’s walking and balance problems might well be related to the presence of “small vessel ischemic changes” in the brain, which are very common in aging adults.
This led to an immediate flurry of follow-up questions. What exactly are these changes, people wanted to know. Do they happen to every older adult? And how they can best help their parents with cognitive decline?
Well, they don’t happen to every older person, but they do happen to the vast majority of them. In fact, one study of older adults aged 60-90 found that 95% of them showed signs of these changes on brain MRI.
In other words, if your older parent ever gets an MRI of the head, he or she will probably show some signs of these changes.
So this is a condition that older adults and families should know about. Furthermore, these changes have been associated with problems of consequence to older adults, including:
- Cognitive decline,
- Problems with walking or balance,
- Vascular dementia.
Now, perhaps the best technical term for what I’m referring to is “cerebral small vessel disease.” But many other synonyms are used by the medical community — especially in radiology reports. They include:
- Small vessel ischemic disease
- White matter disease
- Periventricular white matter changes
- Perivascular chronic ischemic white matter disease of aging
- Chronic microvascular changes, chronic microvascular ischemic changes
- Chronic microvascular ischemia
- White matter hyperintensities
- Age-related white matter changes
In this post, I will explain what all older adults and their families should know about this extremely common condition related to the brain health of older adults.
In particular, I’ll address the following frequently asked questions:
- What is cerebral small vessel disease (SVD)?
- What are the symptoms of cerebral SVD?
- What causes cerebral SVD?
- How can cerebral SVD be treated or prevented?
- Should you request an MRI if you’re concerned about cerebral SVD?
I will also address what you can do, if you are concerned about cerebral SVD for yourself or an older loved one.