Concomitant white matter (WM) brain pathology is often present in patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer's disease (AD). Cognitive effects of WM pathology on cognition in normal and pathological aging have been studied, but very little is known about possible group-specific effects in old age, MCI and AD. The purpose of the current study was to examine the relationship between WM pathology and cognitive functioning in four cognitive domains in old age, MCI and AD. The study utilized multi-domain neuropsychological data and visually rated MRI imaging data from a sample of 56 healthy older adults, 40 patients with MCI and 52 patients with AD (n = 148). After controlling for age and education, main effects of frontal WM pathology (especially in the left hemisphere) were found for cognitive performances in two domains, whereas a main effect of parieto-occipital WM pathology was only found for processing speed. In addition, with regard to processing speed, an interaction between group and WM changes was found: Patients with AD that had moderate or severe left frontal WM pathology were considerably slower than patients with AD that had milder cerebrovascular pathology. Frontal WM pathology, especially in the left hemisphere, seems to affect cognitive functions in many domains in all three groups. The results of the study increase our knowledge of cognitive repercussions stemming from frontal and/or parieto-occipital WM pathology in AD. Clinicians should be aware that patients with AD with prominent frontal cerebrovascular pathology can have considerably slowed cognitive processing.
- Alzheimer's disease
- White matter