March 1990

Preservation of Normal Cognitive Functioning in Elderly Subjects With Extensive White-Matter Lesions of Long Duration

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco, and Psychiatry Service, San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center (Drs Fein, Van Dyke, and Turetsky, and Ms Davenport); the Department of Radiology, University of California, San Francisco (Drs Brant-Zawadzki, Dillon, and Valk); the Department of Radiology, Hoag Memorial Hospital, Newport Beach, Calif (Dr Brant-Zawadzki); the Department of Diagnostic Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, Stanford (Calif) University (Dr Zatz); and Donner Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley (Dr Valk).

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1990;47(3):220-223. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1990.01810150020004

• Although deep white-matter brain lesions are seen on magnetic resonance imaging in about one third of elderly subjects, their clinical significance is not known. In 1984, we studied three retired teachers who had extensive deep white-matter brain lesions on magnetic resonance imaging, yet functioned cognitively at an above-average level. Blinded review of 1981 computed tomographic scans revealed patchy white-matter lucencies for two of the subjects. Repeated magnetic resonance imaging in 1987 showed that the deep white-matter brain lesions were at least as extensive as in the initial study. One subject had developed renal failure, while the other two continued to function at a high level with no evidence of cognitive decline or psychiatric or neurologic impairment. The presence of extensive deep whitematter brain lesions for up to 7 years in two subjects whose cognitive, behavioral, and neurologic functioning is unimpaired suggests that deep white-matter brain lesions do not necessarily indicate a clinically significant central nervous system disease process.