The combined effects of increased life expectancy and the considerable number of persons reaching old age will magnify the dementia epidemic in the USA. Demonstration that subclinical atherosclerosis precedes and is associated with cognitive impairment suggests a modifiable risk factor for age-associated cognitive impairment and dementia. The purpose of this study is to determine whether subclinical atherosclerosis as measured by carotid artery intima-media thickness (CIMT) is associated with changes in cognitive function over time in older adults.
This study combined longitudinal data from three clinical trials conducted between 2000 and 2013: the B-Vitamin Atherosclerosis Intervention Trial (BVAIT), the Women’s Isoflavone Soy Health (WISH) trial, and the Early versus Late Intervention Trial with Estradiol (ELITE). Participants were recruited from the general population in the Greater Los Angeles area and were free of cardiovascular disease and diabetes; no cognitive or psychiatric exclusion criteria were specified. The same standardized protocol for ultrasound image acquisition and measurement of CIMT was used in all trials. CIMT measurements performed at baseline and 2.5 years were used in these analyses. Cognitive function was assessed at baseline and 2.5 years using a battery of 14 standardized cognitive tests. All clinical trials were conducted at the University of Southern California Atherosclerosis Research Unit, Los Angeles, and had at least 2.5 years of cognitive follow-up.
A total of 308 men and 1187 women, mean age of 61 years, were included in the combined longitudinal dataset for the primary analysis. No associations were found between CIMT and cognitive function at baseline or at 2.5 years. There was a weak inverse association between CIMT measured at baseline and change in global cognition assessed over 2.5 years (β (SE) = - 0.056 (0.028) units per 0.1 mm CIMT, 95% CI - 0.110, - 0.001, p = 0.046). No associations between CIMT at baseline and changes in executive function, verbal memory, or visual memory were found.
In this sample of healthy older adults, our findings suggest an association between subclinical atherosclerosis and change in global cognitive function over 2.5 years. Stronger associations were observed longitudinally over 2.5 years than cross-sectionally. When analysis was stratified by age group (<65 and ≥65 years old), the inverse association remained statistically significant for participants in the older age group. Subclinical atherosclerosis of the carotid artery may be a modifiable correlate of cognitive decline in middle and older age.
BVAIT, NCT00114400 . WISH, NCT00118846 . ELITE, NCT00114517 .

© 2022. The Author(s).