Although vascular risk factors have been implicated in the development of all-cause dementia and Alzheimer disease (AD), few studies have examined the association between subclinical atherosclerosis and prospective risk of dementia.
Participants from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (n=364; age, 60-95 years; median age, 73; 60% male; 82% white) underwent initial carotid atherosclerosis assessment and subsequently were assessed for dementia and AD annually for up to 14 years (median, 7.0). Cox proportional hazards models predicting all-cause dementia and AD were adjusted for age, sex, race, education, blood pressure, cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, and smoking.
Sixty participants developed dementia, with 53 diagnosed as AD. Raw rates of future dementia and AD among individuals initially in the upper quintile of carotid intimal medial thickness or with bilateral carotid plaque were generally double the rates of individuals with intimal medial thickness in the lower quintiles or no plaque at baseline. Adjusted proportional hazards models revealed >2.5-fold increased risk of dementia and AD among individuals in the upper quintile of carotid intimal medial thickness, and approximately 2.0-fold increased risk of dementia among individuals with bilateral plaque.
Multiple measures of carotid atherosclerosis are associated with prospective risk of dementia. Individuals in the upper quintile of carotid intimal medial thickness or bilateral carotid plaque were at greatest risk. These findings underscore the possibility that early intervention to reduce atherosclerosis may help delay or prevent onset of dementia and AD.