Background: Families of centenarians have high levels of plasma high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which may have neurological as well as cardiovascular protective effects during aging. Because plasma HDL level declines progressively with aging, we examined whether centenarians with higher plasma HDL levels have better cognitive function.
Methods: Total plasma cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, HDL, triglycerides, and apolipoprotein levels were measured in a group of centenarians (N = 139; older than 95 years) and were correlated with their cognitive function (measured by Mini-Mental State Examination [MMSE]).
Results: Plasma HDL levels correlated significantly with MMSE (r =.32; p <.0001). Each decrease in plasma HDL tertile (74.9 +/- 2.1, 50.6 +/- 0.5, and 36.8 +/- 1.0 mg/dl) was associated with a significant decrease in MMSE (23.4 +/- 1.5, 17.7 +/- 1.8, and 12.4 +/- 1.8; p <.04 for each plasma HDL tertile). As expected, increased plasma apolipoprotein A-I and decreased plasma triglyceride levels were also correlated with a significantly superior cognitive function. Biological markers of hydration and nutritional status did not differ between the groups with the higher or lower plasma HDL or MMSE.
Conclusions: These data demonstrate that cognitive dysfunction in centenarians is associated with a progressive decline in plasma HDL concentrations. This underscores the protective effects of increased plasma HDL and its role in maintaining superior cognition in longevity.