Objective: To perform serial neuropsychological assessments to detect vascular risk factors for cognitive decline in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities cohort, a large biracial, multisite, longitudinal investigation of initially middle-aged individuals.
Methods: The authors administered cognitive assessments to 10,963 individuals (8,729 white individuals and 2,234 black individuals) on two occasions separated by 6 years. Subjects ranged in age at the first assessment from 47 to 70 years. The cognitive assessments included the delayed word recall (DWR) test, a 10-word delayed free recall task in which the learning phase included sentence generation with the study words, the digit symbol subtest (DSS) of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Revised and the first-letter word fluency (WF) test using letters F, A, and S.
Results: In multivariate analyses (controlling for demographic factors), the presence of diabetes at baseline was associated with greater decline in scores on both the DSS and WF (p < 0.05), and the presence of hypertension at baseline was associated with greater decline on the DSS alone (p < 0.05). The association of diabetes with cognitive decline persisted when analysis was restricted to the 47- to 57-year-old subgroup. Smoking status, carotid intima-media wall thickness, and hyperlipidemia at baseline were not associated with change in cognitive test scores.
Conclusions: Hypertension and diabetes mellitus were positively associated with cognitive decline over 6 years in this late middle-aged population. Interventions aimed at hypertension or diabetes that begin before age 60 might lessen the burden of cognitive impairment in later life.