Arterial stiffness and cognitive decline in well-functioning older adults

Nora L Watson, Kim Sutton-Tyrrell, Caterina Rosano, Robert M Boudreau, Susan E Hardy, Eleanor M Simonsick, Samer S Najjar, Lenore J Launer, Kristine Yaffe, Hal H Atkinson, Suzanne Satterfield, Anne B Newman
Journals of Gerontology. Series A, Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences 2011, 66 (12): 1336-42

BACKGROUND: Stiffness of the central arteries in aging may contribute to cerebral microvascular disease independent of hypertension and other vascular risk factors. Few studies of older adults have evaluated the association of central arterial stiffness with longitudinal cognitive decline.

METHODS: We evaluated associations of aortic pulse wave velocity (centimeters per second), a measure of central arterial stiffness, with cognitive function and decline in 552 participants in the Health, Aging, and Body Composition (Health ABC) study Cognitive Vitality Substudy (mean age ± SD = 73.1 ± 2.7 years, 48% men and 42% black). Aortic pulse wave velocity was assessed at baseline via Doppler-recorded carotid and femoral pulse waveforms. Global cognitive function, verbal memory, psychomotor, and perceptual speed were evaluated over 6 years.

RESULTS: After adjustment for demographics, vascular risk factors, and chronic conditions, each 1 SD higher aortic pulse wave velocity (389 cm/s) was associated with poorer cognitive function: -0.11 SD for global function (SE = 0.04, p < .01), -0.09 SD for psychomotor speed (SE = 0.04, p = .03), and -0.12 SD for perceptual speed (SE = 0.04, p < .01). Higher aortic pulse wave velocity was also associated with greater decline in psychomotor speed, defined as greater than 1 SD more than the mean change (odds ratio = 1.42 [95% confidence interval = 1.06, 1.90]) but not with verbal memory or longitudinal decline in global function, verbal memory, or perceptual speed. Results were consistent with mixed models of decline in each cognitive test.

CONCLUSIONS: In well-functioning older adults, central arterial stiffness may contribute to cognitive decline independent of hypertension and other vascular risk factors.

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