To investigate the impact white matter hyperintensities (WMH) detected on MRI have on motor dysfunction and cognitive impairment in non-demented elderly subjects.
Population-based study on the incidence and prevalence of cognitive impairment in Olmsted County, MN.
A total of 148 non-demented elderly (65 males) ranging in age from 73 to 91 years.
Main Outcome Measures
We measured the percentage of the total white matter volume classified as WMH (WMHp) in a priori defined brain regions (i.e. frontal, temporal, parietal, occipital, periventricular or subcortical). Motor impairment was evaluated qualitatively using the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) summary measures of motor skills and quantitatively using a digitized portable walkway system. Four cognitive domains were evaluated using z-scores of memory, language, executive function, and visuospatial reasoning.
A higher WMHp in all regions except occipital was associated with lower executive function z-score (p-value<0.01). A higher WMHp in all regions, but most strongly for parietal lobe, correlated with higher gait/postural-stability/posture UPDRS sum (p-value<0.01). A higher WMHp whether periventricular, subcortical or lobar correlated with reduced velocity (p-value<0.001).
We conclude that executive function is the primary cognitive domain affected by WMH burden. The data suggests that WMH in the parietal lobe are chiefly responsible for reduced balance and postural support compared to the other three lobes and may alter integration of sensory information via parietal lobe dysfunction in the aging brain. It is of interest that parietal WM changes were not the predominant correlate with motor speed, lending evidence to a global involvement of neural networks in gait velocity.