There is a lack of studies simultaneously evaluating the impact of structural and functional atherosclerosis on cognition. We investigated the long-term predictive and interaction effects of structural and functional carotid atherosclerosis markers on future cognitive decline.
Five hundred and twenty-eight middle-aged participants enrolled in the carotid atherosclerosis examination in Kaohsiung Atherosclerosis Longitudinal Study (KALS) between 2006 and 2009 were tested for cognition between 2016 and 2019. The Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) was used for the cognitive test. Baseline structural atherosclerosis was assessed by carotid intima-media thickness (cIMT) and plaque, whereas functional atherosclerosis was evaluated by carotid stiffness (β, Ep, and pulse wave velocity). Participants in the top quartile of cIMT and those with plaques were considered to have advanced structural atherosclerosis, whereas participants with all three stiffness parameters in the top quartile were defined to have advanced functional atherosclerosis.
The mean participant age at baseline was 53.88 ± 8.37 years. Each case of advanced structural atherosclerosis and advanced functional atherosclerosis was associated with low 10-year MoCA scores with p < 0.001 and p = 0.03, respectively. An interaction effect was observed between structural and functional atherosclerosis on the MoCA score 10 years later (p = 0.02). Participants with both advanced structural and functional markers showed a marked impact on future cognitive function, especially executive and language domains.
Carotid atherosclerosis in middle-aged individuals can predict their cognitive function in 10 years. Integrated information regarding both arterial wall and stiffness could help improve the predictive power for cognitive decline.

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