Atherosclerosis may be associated with cognitive function; however the studies are few, especially among midlife adults.
Participants in the Beaver Dam Offspring Study who had cognitive test data and gradable carotid artery ultrasound scans were included (n=2794, mean age: 49 years). Atherosclerosis was measured by carotid intima-media thickness (IMT) and presence of plaque. Cognitive function was measured by the Trail Making Test (TMT), Grooved Pegboard Test (GPT) and Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE). Generalized cognitive function was defined by a summary score calculated from the TMT and GPT. Linear regression was used to evaluate the associations between carotid atherosclerosis and cognitive function tests.
Larger IMT was associated with lower GPT, MMSE and the summary score adjusting for multiple factors, the coefficients were: 13.8 seconds (p<0.0001), −0.6 (p=0.007), and 0.47 (p=0.01), respectively for 1 mm increase in IMT. Plaque scores were significantly associated with TMT-B, GPT, MMSE, and the summary score adjusting for age, sex and education. The associations remained statistically significant after further adjustments except for the association with TMT-B, which was attenuated and no longer significant.
Our results show significant associations between markers of carotid atherosclerosis and cognitive function in a cohort of persons aged 21 to 84 years. Longitudinal studies are needed to further examine these associations.