According to a study, individuals that smoke or who have diabetes could be at greater risk of calcifications (abnormal buildups of calcium) in an area of the brain important to memory. Dementia is a serious health issue which impacts millions of individuals around the world. The hippocampus is a brain structure necessary for short-term as well as long-term memory storage, and has been a focus of dementia research. The most common kind of dementia is Alzheimer’s, which is linked to hippocampal atrophy.
It’s been hypothesized by researchers that hippocampal calcifications could be associated with vascular problems which can play a role in atrophy of the hippocampus and subsequent cognitive damage. Studies on the link between calcifications in the hippocampus and cognitive impairment are however limited. It’s known that hippocampal calcification is common, particularly as we get older, but it’s unknown if hippocampal calcification is related to cognitive function.
Imaging advances have presented opportunities for exploring how calcifications in the hippocampus play a role in dementia. Multiplanar brain CT scan developments have allowed improved distinction between calcifications in the hippocampus and calcifications in nearby structures of the brain such as the choroid plexus.
Researchers examined the connection between vascular risk factors such as smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure, and calcifications in the hippocampus. The effect that calcifications have on cognitive function were also assessed. The study group consisted of 1,991 individuals with an average age of 78 years, and who had paid a visit to a memory. They underwent standard diagnostic tests which included brain CT scans and cognitive tests. The CT scans were examined for the presence and extent of hippocampal calcifications.
It was determined that 19.1% of the individuals had calcifications in the hippocampus. Older age, smoking and diabetes were linked to a greater risk of calcifications in the hippocampus on CT scans. Although the study wasn’t intended to determine whether smoking and diabetes increase hippocampal calcification risk, the outcomes strongly suggest an association.
Other research has found hippocampal calcifications to be a manifestation of vascular disease. It’s well known that diabetes and smoking are cardiovascular disease risk factors. It’s thus likely that diabetes and smoking are hippocampal calcification risk factors.
There was however no association between the presence and extent of calcifications in the hippocampus and cognitive function. One explanation is that because the hippocampus consists of different layers, it’s possible that the calcifications didn’t damage the structure of the hippocampus that’s necessary for memory storage.