While dementia is often blamed for memory loss among senior citizens, new research suggests undetectable “silent strokes” could be the culprit instead.

A study recently published in the journal of the American Academy of Neurology looked at 658 men and women who were at least 65 and had no history of dementia found these strokes had no noticeable symptoms but left behind small pockets of dead brain cells in up to a quarter of study participants.

This in turn led to diminished performance during memory tests, regardless of how large or small the patient’s hippocampus — the area of the brain responsible for memory — was found to be.

In a news release from the AAN, study author Adam Brickman of the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain at Columbia University Medical Center in New York said, “Given that conditions like Alzheimer’s disease are defined mainly by memory problems, our results may lead to further insight into what causes symptoms and the development of new interventions for prevention,” adding, “Since silent strokes and the volume of the hippocampus appeared to be associated with memory loss separately in our study, our results also support stroke prevention as a means for staving off memory problems.”

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