Background: Aging processes and several vascular burden factors have been shown to increase the risk of dementia including Alzheimer's disease. While pathological alterations in dementia precede diagnosis by many years, reorganization of brain processing might temporarily delay cognitive decline. We hypothesized that in healthy elderly individuals both age-related neural and vascular factors known to be related to the development of dementia impact functional cortical hemodynamics during increased cognitive demands.
Methods: Vascular burden factors and cortical functional hemodynamics during verbal fluency were assessed in 1052 non-demented elderly individuals (51 to 83 years; cross-sectional data of the longitudinal TREND study) using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). The prediction of functional hemodynamic responses by age in multiple regressions and the impact of single and cumulative vascular burden factors including hypertension, diabetes, obesity, smoking and atherosclerosis were investigated.
Results: Replicating and extending previous findings we could show that increasing age predicted functional hemodynamics to be increased in right prefrontal and bilateral parietal cortex, and decreased in bilateral inferior frontal junction during phonological fluency. Cumulative vascular burden factors, with hypertension in particular, decreased left inferior frontal junction hemodynamic responses during phonological fluency. However, age and vascular burden factors showed no statistical interaction on functional hemodynamics.
Conclusion: Based on these findings, one might hypothesize that increased fronto-parietal processing may represent age-related compensatory reorganization during increased cognitive demands. Vascular burden factors, such as hypertension, may contribute to regional cerebral hypoperfusion. These neural and vascular hemodynamic determinants should be investigated longitudinally and combined with other markers to advance the prediction of future cognitive decline and dementia.