The age-related effect on cognitive performance in cognitively healthy elderly is mainly caused by underlying AD pathology or cerebrovascular lesions: implications for cutoffs regarding cognitive impairment

Alzheimers Res Ther. 2020 Mar 24;12(1):30. doi: 10.1186/s13195-020-00592-8.

Abstract

Background: As research in treatments for neurocognitive diseases progresses, there is an increasing need to identify cognitive decline in the earliest stages of disease for initiation of treatment in addition to determining the efficacy of treatment. For early identification, accurate cognitive tests cutoff values for cognitive impairment are essential.

Methods: We conducted a study on 297 cognitively healthy elderly people from the BioFINDER study and created subgroups excluding people with signs of underlying neuropathology, i.e., abnormal cerebrospinal fluid [CSF] β-amyloid or phosphorylated tau, CSF neurofilament light (neurodegeneration), or cerebrovascular pathology. We compared cognitive test results between groups and examined the age effect on cognitive test results.

Results: In our subcohort without any measurable pathology (n = 120), participants achieved better test scores and significantly stricter cutoffs for cognitive impairment for almost all the examined tests. The age effect in this subcohort disappeared for all cognitive tests, apart from some attention/executive tests, predominantly explained by the exclusion of cerebrovascular pathology.

Conclusion: Our study illustrates a new approach to establish normative data that could be useful to identify earlier cognitive changes in preclinical dementias. Future studies need to investigate if there is a genuine effect of healthy aging on cognitive tests or if this age effect is a proxy for higher prevalence of preclinical neurodegenerative diseases.

Keywords: Age; Cognitive assessment; Cutoff; Normative; Preclinical pathology; Robust norms; True norms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't