BACKGROUND - Increased carotid artery intima-media thickness (IMT) is a non-invasive marker of systemic arterial disease. Increased IMT has been associated with atherosclerosis, abnormal arterial mechanics, myocardial infarction, and stroke. Given evidence of a relationship between cardiovascular health and attention-executive-psychomotor functioning, the purpose of this study was to examine IMT in relation to neuropsychological test performance in patients with a variety of cardiovascular diagnoses.
METHODS - One hundred and nine participants, ages 55 to 85, underwent neuropsychological assessment and B-mode ultrasound of the left common carotid artery. IMT was calculated using an automated algorithm based on a validated edge-detection technique. The relationship between IMT and measures of language, memory, visual-spatial abilities and attention-executive-psychomotor functioning was modeled using hierarchical linear regression analyses adjusted for age, education, sex, cardiovascular risk, current systolic blood pressure, and history of coronary artery disease (CAD).
RESULTS - Increased IMT was associated with significantly lower performance in the attention-executive-psychomotor domain (IMT beta=-0.26, p<.01), independent of age, education, sex, cardiovascular risk, current systolic blood pressure, and CAD (F(10,100)=3.61, p<.001). IMT was not significantly related to language, memory, or visual-spatial abilities.
CONCLUSIONS - Our findings suggest that, in patients with cardiovascular disease, IMT may be associated with the integrity of frontal subcortical networks responsible for attention-executive-psychomotor performance. Future studies are needed to clarify the mechanisms by which IMT affects cognition and examine potential interactions between increased IMT and other measures of cardiovascular health such as blood pressure variability, cardiac systolic performance, and systemic perfusion.