Abstract

Previous studies have examined the impact of subcortical hyperintensities (SH), a proxy measure of cerebrovascular disease, on the cognitive abilities of otherwise healthy older adults. However, there remains a limited understanding as to what extent this MRI marker of pathological processes explains the decline in specific cognitive functions that occur nearly ubiquitously with advanced age, especially in relation to other age-related imaging markers. In the present study we compared cognitive abilities between a sample of 53 older healthy adults (age range=50–79) and a sample of 53 younger adults (age range=21–40). As expected, the older group performed significantly worse on most cognitive measures compared to the younger group. Frontal volume and total grey matter volume were also significantly reduced among the older individuals compared to the younger individuals. SH volume was consistently associated with cognitive function in older adults, though, this relationship was evident only for a relatively small subset of older individuals with the most severe SH. These data suggest that the relationship between SH and cognition in the elderly is driven by a subset of individuals who may be in the earliest stages of vascular cognitive impairment. Further, the findings suggest that cognitive aging is largely determined by factors other than SH for most older adults.