Artery clue to declining mental state

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A neck artery that starts to narrow may be an early warning of memory and mental decline, research suggests.

The carotid arteries in the neck supply blood to the brain. A build-up of material on their walls can restrict blood flow or release harmful debris.

Scientists studied 67 people with a condition called asymptomatic carotid stenosis (ACS) which results in a 50 per cent reduction the artery’s diameter.

Members of the ACS group performed significantly worse in tests of thinking and reaction speed, learning and memory.

However, language scores did not differ between the two groups.

Study leader Dr Brajesh Lal, from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, US, said: “To date, the focus of diagnosis and management of carotid artery blockages has been prevention of stroke since that was the only harm that these blockages were thought to cause to patients.

“These results underscore the importance of assessing the status of memory and thinking in people with carotid artery narrowing.”