Intima-Media Thickness and Cognitive Function in Stroke-Free Middle-Aged Adults: Findings From the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study

Adina Zeki Al Hazzouri, Eric Vittinghoff, Stephen Sidney, Jared P Reis, David R Jacobs, Kristine Yaffe
Stroke; a Journal of Cerebral Circulation 2015, 46 (8): 2190-6

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: The relationship between carotid artery intima-media thickness (IMT) and cognitive function in midlife remains relatively unexplored. We examined the association between IMT and cognitive function in a middle-aged epidemiological cohort of 2618 stroke-free participants.

METHODS: At the year 20 visit (our study baseline), participants from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study had IMT measured by ultrasound at the common carotid artery. Five years later, participants completed a cognitive battery consisting of the Rey Auditory-Verbal Learning Test of verbal memory, the Digit Symbol Substitution Test of processing speed, and the Stroop test of executive function. We transformed cognitive scores into standardized z scores, with negative values indicating worse performance.

RESULTS: Mean age at baseline was 45.3 years (SD, 3.6). Greater IMT (per 1 SD difference of 0.12 mm) was significantly associated with worse performance on all cognitive tests (z scores) in unadjusted linear regression models (verbal memory, -0.16; 95% confidence interval [CI], -0.20 to -0.13; processing speed, -0.23; 95% CI, -0.27 to -0.19; and executive function, -0.17; 95% CI, -0.20 to -0.13). In models adjusted for sociodemographics and vascular risk factors that lie earlier in the causal pathway, greater IMT remained negatively associated with processing speed (-0.06; 95% CI, -0.09 to -0.02; P, 0.003) and borderline associated with executive function (-0.03; 95% CI, -0.07 to 0.00; P, 0.07) but not with verbal memory.

CONCLUSIONS: We observed an association between greater IMT and worse processing speed-a key component of cognitive functioning-at middle age above and beyond traditional vascular risk factors. Efforts targeted at preventing early stages of atherosclerosis may modify the course of cognitive aging.

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