Arterial stiffness, the brain and cognition: a systematic review

Ageing Res Rev. 2014 May:15:16-27. doi: 10.1016/j.arr.2014.02.002. Epub 2014 Feb 15.


Background: Arterial stiffness is a known predictor of cardiovascular disease, and has also been associated with markers of cerebral small vessel disease as well as poor cognitive function and cognitive decline. The consistency of these associations and their relationship to each other are unclear.

Method: We conducted a systematic review of the evidence associating arterial stiffness with cognitive function and cognitive decline, and with makers of cerebral small vessel disease, specifically lacunar infarcts and white matter hyperintensities.

Results: Thirteen cross-sectional studies examining arterial stiffness and white matter hyperintensities or lacunar infarctions reported a positive association between increased arterial stiffness and radiological findings of cerebral small vessel disease. Two longitudinal studies examining the relationship between arterial stiffness and white matter hyperintensities found increased pulse wave velocity to be an independent predictor of white matter hyperintensity volume. Fifteen cross-sectional and seven longitudinal studies examining arterial stiffness and cognition were identified. Fourteen of the fifteen cross-sectional studies associated increased arterial stiffness with lower cognitive function, and six of the seven longitudinal studies found arterial stiffness to be predictive of cognitive decline.

Conclusion: Arterial stiffness is associated with cerebral small vessel disease and decreased cognitive function. However methodological limitations such as differing covariates between studies and an over-reliance on the MMSE to measure cognition are a concern across much of the literature.

Keywords: Aging; Arterial stiffness; Brain; Cognition; Cognitive function; Pulse wave velocity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Stroke, Lacunar / pathology
  • Stroke, Lacunar / psychology
  • Vascular Stiffness / physiology*
  • White Matter / physiology