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What Leads to Cognitive Decline

Study identifies risk factors associated with mild impairment

MONDAY, Oct. 20, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) experienced by the elderly may be associated with cerebrovascular disease, depression and racial factors.

Those clues come in research published in the October issue of the Archives of Neurology.

People with MCI are at higher risk for developing dementia, especially Alzheimer's disease. MCI is characterized by demonstrable cognitive impairment including memory problems but without dementia. Prevalence of MCI among the elderly increases with age.

The researchers, led by Dr. Oscar L. Lopez of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, studied thousands of people who took part in the Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS) Cognition Study who had magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans between 1991 and 1994.

The study subjects also had neuropsychological, neurological and medical evaluations between 1998 and 1999 to identify the presence of MCI or dementia.

The overall prevalence of MCI among the study subjects was 19 percent (465 of 2,470 people still alive in 1998-99). The prevalence of MCI increases with age from 19 percent in people younger than 75 to 29 percent in people older than 85.

The study also found MCI was associated with being black and having low levels of education. MCI was also associated with scores in tests that measure neuropsychological function, cortical atrophy (shrinkage of part of the brain), MRI-detected infarcts (tiny areas of brain damage caused by impaired circulation) and depression.

"Twenty-two percent of the participants aged 75 years or older had MCI. Most of the participants with MCI had comorbid conditions [other health problems] that may affect their cognitive function," the researchers write.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about dementia.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives, news release, Oct. 20, 2003
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