WEDNESDAY, Feb. 1, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Many adults whose parents suffered a stroke before age 65 experience vascular changes and brain aging in middle age that may precede a stroke, a new study finds.
It included nearly 1,300 participants with an average age of 61 who underwent MRI brain scans to assess their brain health, including total brain volume, the volume of white matter lesions and other signs of aging or damage to brain tissue.
The participants also underwent tests to assess various mental abilities, including verbal memory, abstract reasoning, verbal learning and visuospatial memory, which is the ability to recall objects presented visually.
The study was to be presented Wednesday at the American Stroke Association meeting in New Orleans.
Nearly 10 percent of the participants had one or both parents who suffered a stroke before age 65. Strokes occur when blood flow to the brain ceases.
The scans showed these offspring had a higher volume of white matter lesions, equivalent to a difference of nearly three years in brain age, researchers said in an association news release.
A follow-up of about six years found they were also the most likely to perform poorly on tests of visuospatial memory and were more likely to have a worsening of executive functioning, which controls attention and the ability to plan.
However, having a parent who suffered a stroke before age 65 did not affect a person's total brain volume or verbal memory, abstract reasoning and verbal learning.
Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about stroke.