'Earth-shaking' findings could prevent strokes, nursing home admissions

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Treating blocked carotid arteries, even if there are no negative symptoms present, significantly improves mental functioning, researchers say. Inserting a stent will prop open the arteries, the major source of blow flow to the brain.

"What we found was earth-shaking," presenter Dr. Rodney D. Raabe, of Sacred Heart Medical in Spokane, Washington, said in a published report. "The findings will change the way we think about carotid artery disease, how it is treated and how patients are classified.

About three-fourths of the 40 study subjects had undergone 6-month evaluations, including an extensive battery of neurocognitive tests, Raabe said. Study results were discussed Friday at the Society of Interventional Radiology's annual meeting in Toronto.

"Remarkably, they all showed significant cognitive improvement, especially in executive function, their ability to think abstractly, make judgments and reason," Raabe said. "Some patients whose functioning was so poor that they were being considered for nursing home placement, are now doing quite well living independently at home."

Treatment of carotid arteries currently takes place in the United States only to prevent stroke. Patients with early dementia may actually be experiencing the results of blocked carotid arteries and their condition could be reversed, Raabe said.