Patients with early-onset dementia are a significantly under-recognized subgroup of patients with an increasing prevalence. Epidemiological studies are limited and studies of modifiable risk factors, such as physical fitness, are lacking. We aimed to investigate the associations between cardiovascular fitness individually and in combination with cognitive performance at age 18 and risk of early-onset dementia and mild cognitive impairment later in life. We performed a population-based cohort study of over 1.1 million Swedish, 18-year-old, male conscripts, who underwent conscription exams between 1968 and 2005. These males were then followed for up to 42 years. Objective data on cardiovascular fitness and cognitive performance were collected during conscription exams and were subsequently linked with hospital registries to calculate later risk of early-onset dementia and mild cognitive impairment using Cox proportional hazards models controlling for several confounders. The scores from the exams were divided into tertiles (low, medium, high) for the analyses. The mean follow-up time for the analyses was 25.7 years (standard deviation: 9.3) and the median was 27 years. In total, 30 195 315 person-years of follow-up were included in the study. In fully adjusted models, both low cardiovascular fitness and cognitive performance (compared to high) at age 18 were associated with increased risk for future early-onset dementia (cardiovascular fitness, n = 662 events: hazard ratio 2.49, 95%, confidence interval 1.87-3.32; cognitive performance, n = 657 events: hazard ratio 4.11, 95%, confidence interval 3.19-5.29) and mild cognitive impairment (cardiovascular fitness, n = 213 events: hazard ratio 3.57, 95%, confidence interval 2.23-5.74; cognitive performance, n = 212 events: hazard ratio 3.23, 95%, confidence interval 2.12-4.95). Poor performance on both cardiovascular fitness and cognitive tests was associated with a >7-fold (hazard ratio 7.34, 95%, confidence interval 5.08-10.58) and a >8-fold (hazard ratio 8.44, 95%, confidence interval 4.64-15.37) increased risk of early-onset dementia and early-onset mild cognitive impairment, respectively. In conclusion, lower cardiovascular fitness and cognitive performance in early adulthood were associated with an increased risk of early-onset dementia and mild cognitive impairment later in life, and the greatest risks were observed for individuals with a combination of low cardiovascular fitness and low cognitive performance.
Keywords: epidemiology; exercise; longitudinal, dementia; mild cognitive impairment.