White matter disease hardens the minuscule arteries inside the brain's white matter, according to ScienceDaily. Over time, the white matter loses access to nutrients, and since the white matter connects brain regions that handle executive tasks, the risk of stroke or full-blown dementia is significant.
White matter disease is distinct from Alzheimer's disease because Alzheimer's causes atrophy in the hippocampus, leading to memory loss over time, explains ScienceDaily. The damage to the white matter hinders the patient from being able to solve problems, organize tasks, plan or pay attention. Patients with white matter disease also have an elevated risk of developing vascular dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
Causes for white matter disease are thought to include high blood pressure, poor management of diabetes, unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyle and smoking. The disease develops slowly over time, which means the lesions can form years before the patient has the MRI that discovers them. Many patients simply ignore the subtle changes that take place in their cognition, attributing them to the process of aging rather than connecting them to a potential disease, states ScienceDaily. After diagnosis, it is possible to minimize the damage by changing to a low-fat diet, exercising regularly and maintaining healthy levels of cholesterol, blood pressure, and in the case of diabetics, glucose.