Synergistic associations of cognitive and motor impairments with functional outcome in covert cerebral small vessel disease

Eur J Neurol. 2022 Jan;29(1):158-167. doi: 10.1111/ene.15108. Epub 2021 Sep 26.


Background: Cognitive and motor impairments are the key clinical manifestations of cerebral small vessel disease (SVD), but their combined effects on functional outcome have not been elucidated. This study investigated the interactions and mediating effects of cognitive and motor functions on instrumental activities of daily living (IADL) and quality of life in older individuals with various degrees of white matter hyperintensities (WMH).

Methods: Participants of the Helsinki Small Vessel Disease Study (n = 152) were assessed according to an extensive clinical, physical, neuropsychological and MRI protocol. Volumes of WMH and gray matter (GM) were obtained with automated segmentation.

Results: Cognitive (global cognition, executive functions, processing speed, memory) and motor functions (gait speed, single-leg stance, timed up-and-go) had strong interrelations with each other, and they were significantly associated with IADL, quality of life as well as WMH and GM volumes. A consistent pattern on significant interactions between cognitive and motor functions was found on informant-evaluated IADL, but not on self-evaluated quality of life. The association of WMH volume with IADL was mediated by global cognition, whereas the association of GM volume with IADL was mediated by global cognition and timed up-and-go performance.

Conclusion: The results highlight the complex interplay and synergism between motor and cognitive abilities on functional outcome in SVD. The combined effect of motor and cognitive disturbances on IADL is likely to be greater than their individual effects. Patients with both impairments are at disproportionate risk for poor outcome. WMH and brain atrophy contribute to disability through cognitive and motor impairment.

Keywords: cognition; instrumental activities of daily living; motor functions; neuropsychology; quality of life; small vessel disease; vascular cognitive impairment; vascular dementia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Aged
  • Cerebral Small Vessel Diseases* / complications
  • Cerebral Small Vessel Diseases* / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Small Vessel Diseases* / psychology
  • Cognition
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / complications
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / etiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Motor Disorders* / complications
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Quality of Life
  • White Matter* / diagnostic imaging