Objective: Atherosclerosis has been implicated in the development of dementia and its major subtypes, Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. However, support for this association mainly comes from cross-sectional studies. We investigated the association of atherosclerosis with dementia and subtypes of dementia during long follow-up, with various noninvasive measures of atherosclerosis.
Methods: This study was based on 6,647 participants in the Rotterdam Study, a population-based prospective cohort study among 7,983 elderly subjects. At baseline (1990-1993) and at the third survey (1997-1999), common carotid intima media thickness, carotid plaques, and peripheral arterial disease (measured as ankle-brachial index) were measured. During follow-up (mean, 9.0 years), 678 subjects developed dementia. We estimated the associations of different measures of atherosclerosis with risk for dementia and subtypes of dementia by means of Cox proportional hazard models. Analyses were repeated and stratified on duration of follow-up. To evaluate competing risk for mortality, we examined the association between measures of atherosclerosis and risk for dementia or mortality by combining the two in a single outcome measure.
Results: We found that atherosclerosis, predominantly carotid atherosclerosis, was associated with an increased risk for dementia during short follow-up. This association attenuated with longer follow-up, likely because of the strong association between atherosclerosis and mortality. The associations did not differ across apolipoprotein E genotypes.
Interpretation: Our findings suggest that atherosclerosis is associated with an increased risk for dementia. Stronger associations between atherosclerosis and mortality may attenuate the association between atherosclerosis and dementia in prospective cohort studies with long follow-up periods.