Background: Several studies have shown that individually memory, hippocampal volume, and motor measures presage the onset of dementia. It is unclear if these independently contribute to the prediction of mild cognitive impairment.
Objective: To determine the ability of memory, hippocampal volume, and a gait speed to independently predict cognitive decline in healthy elderly persons.
Design: A prospective, longitudinal, observational cohort study with a mean follow-up of 6 years.
Participants: One hundred eight optimally healthy elderly cognitively intact subjects.
Main outcome measures: Any cognitive impairment noted on the Clinical Dementia Rating Scale (score = 0.5) or persistent or progressive cognitive impairment. Cox modeling determined if time to onset of cognitive impairment was associated with baseline logical memory II test score (a measure of delayed recall), hippocampal volume (magnetic resonance imaging), or gait speed (time to walk 30 ft [9 m]) independent of age, sex, depression, or the allele producing the epsilon4 type of apolipoprotein E (APOE epsilon4).
Results: Questionable dementia occurred in 48 participants in a mean (SD) of 3.7 (2.4) years. This progressed to persistent cognitive impairment in 38 of these participants in a mean (SD) of 4.4 (2.4) years. Logical memory II test performance and hippocampal volume each predicted onset of questionable dementia, independent of age and sex. Time to walk 30 ft additionally contributed independently to the prediction of time to onset of persistent cognitive impairment. Possessing the APOE epsilon4 allele and depression did not enter either model significantly.
Conclusions: Models combining multiple risk factors should refine the prediction of questionable dementia and persistent cognitive impairment, harbingers of dementia. Individuals at risk for cognitive impairment may represent a high-risk group for intervention.