White Matter Hyperintensity Predicts the Risk of Incident Cognitive Decline in Community Dwelling Elderly

J Alzheimers Dis. 2018;61(4):1333-1341. doi: 10.3233/JAD-170876.


Background: Unlike western countries, data on white matter hyperintensity (WMH) in community dwelling elderly in Asian population is very limited.

Objective: To examine the relation between baseline WMH burden and the risk of incident cognitive decline in a community-based cohort with Chinese-dwelling elderly.

Methods: We prospectively evaluated the incident cognitive decline for 226 participants in the Shanghai Aging Study. Baseline WMH severity was visually rated by the age-related white matter changes (ARWMC) scale based on MRI. Cox proportional hazards regression model was used to estimate the relative risk (RR) of total ARWMC scale, global ARWMC score, presence of lacune and microbleed, for incident cognitive decline by adjusting potential confounders.

Results: Forty subjects were identified with incident cognitive decline (new onset 34 mild cognitive impairment and 6 dementia) during a median duration of 6 years follow-up. The incidence of cognitive decline was 3.0 (95% confidence interval [CI] 2.2-4.1) per 100 person-years. Increasing total ARWMC scale [RR1.21 (95% CI 1.06-1.39), p = 0.004)], confluent WMH [RR3.16 (95% CI 1.50-6.64), p = 0.002), and presence of lacunes [RR 2.73 (95% CI 1.21-6.15)] at baseline were independent predictors of incident cognitive decline.

Conclusion: Our study demonstrated that confluent WMH may increase the risk of incident cognitive decline by 3 folds in community dwelling subjects. Small vessel disease may cause heavy burden of cognitive impairment in the elderly in China.

Keywords: Cognitive decline; dementia; mild cognitive impairment; small vessel disease; white matter hyperintensity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • China / epidemiology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / diagnosis*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Independent Living
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • White Matter / pathology*