Patients showing tell-tale signs a decade before a stroke

A new study has suggested that stroke patients show signs of cognitive decline up to 10 years before being taken ill. Researchers say the early tell-tale signs could be used to identify patients at risk of stroke, who then may benefit from early intervention.

Almost 15,000 individuals participated in a study between 1990 and 2016 which found stroke patients experienced much steeper declines in cognitive abilities and routine daily functioning – almost a decade before their first stroke; over those who did not suffer from a stroke.

What the data shows

Interestingly, carriers of the gene associated with Alzheimer’s disease, those with fewer academic qualifications and women, were all at greater risk.

The study paper, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, showed it is common for individuals to experience a decline in cognitive skills and the inability to carry out routine daily activities following a stroke due to the build-up of physiological changes.

Scientists in the Netherlands used the data from large number of individuals within the study, to explore when the changes begin to take effect. Using various tests to asses the cognitive abilities of participants – including memory, verbal fluency, reaction times and manual dexterity – they also assessed the capacity for basic activities of independent daily living.

Over 1600 participants had their first stroke at age 80. These individuals had experienced steeper declines in their cognition and daily functioning as much as 10-years before their first stroke.

Clinically significant differences

In the cognitive ability tests, researchers found clinically significant differences between those who did and didn’t have a stroke began ten years before a stroke. However, differences in the basic and advanced daily functioning skills emerged up to three years earlier.

This study is the first of its kind to find signs of a potential stroke up to a decade before.

Though researchers have acknowledged that the findings are observational, they indicate the potential for finding tell-tale signs of a stroke.

“Our findings demonstrated future stroke patients start to deviate from stroke-free controls up to ten years before the acute event. The accelerated decline in cognition and daily functioning before stroke suggests individuals with future stroke suffer from accumulating intracerebral damage years before the acute event, such as cerebral small vessel disease, neurodegeneration, and inflammation.”

There are more than 100,000 strokes in the UK each year, causing 38,000 deaths, making it a leading cause of death and disability.

A stroke can be caused by brain injuries and trauma, as well as a range of long-term and severe illnesses. At NRC Medical Experts, our consultants are skilled in understanding the impact of stroke. Learn more about how we can support solicitors with expert medico-legal guidance.