BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE - MRI-defined infarcts are common in the elderly. We sought to explore incidence, manifestations, and predictors of such infarcts.
METHODS - The Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS) is a population-based, longitudinal study of 5888 people aged > or =65 years. Participants have had extensive baseline and follow-up evaluations; 1433 participants underwent 2 MRI scans separated by 5 years and had no infarcts on initial MRI.
RESULTS - On follow-up MRI, 254 participants (17.7%) had 1 or more infarcts. Most were single (75.6%), subcortical (79.9%), and small (3 to 20 mm in 87.0%). Only 11.4% of those with infarcts experienced a documented transient ischemic attack or stroke between the scans. Although participants were similar at initial MRI, those with MRI-defined infarcts on follow-up experienced greater decline than those without infarcts on the Modified Mini-Mental State Examination and Digit-Symbol Substitution test (both P<0.01). Severity of white matter changes on initial MRI was the strongest predictor of incident infarcts. When it was excluded from stepwise multivariable models, predictors were serum creatinine, age, and ankle-arm index.
CONCLUSIONS - Incident MRI-defined infarcts commonly affect the elderly. Most are small, subcortical, and not associated with acute symptoms recognized as a transient ischemic attack or stroke. Nonetheless, they cannot be considered silent because of their association with subtle cognitive deficits. These covert infarcts are associated with white matter changes, which may share a common pathophysiology. Whether control of vascular risk factors, such as blood pressure, would reduce the risk of developing these infarcts and associated cognitive decline deserves further investigation.