Cognitive decline, like most of the consequences of aging, stems from a range of root causes. Here researchers look at which of these causes contribute the most to the harmful end result:
Vascular brain injury from conditions such as high blood pressure and stroke are greater risk factors for cognitive impairment among non-demented older people than is the deposition of the amyloid plaques in the brain that long have been implicated in conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, a study [has] found. The research was conducted in 61 male and female study participants who ranged in age from 65 to 90 years old, with an average age of 78. Thirty of the participants were clinically "normal," 24 were cognitively impaired and seven were diagnosed with dementia, based on cognitive testing.
The researchers also sought to determine whether there was a correlation between vascular brain injury and the deposition of beta amyloid (Αβ) plaques, thought to be an early and important marker of Alzheimer's disease. [They] also sought to decipher what effect each has on memory and executive functioning.
"We looked at two questions. The first question was whether those two pathologies correlate to each other, and the simple answer is 'no.' Earlier research, conducted in animals, has suggested that having a stroke causes more beta amyloid deposition in the brain. If that were the case, people who had more vascular brain injury should have higher levels of beta amyloid. We found no evidence to support that."
"The second was whether higher levels of cerebrovascular disease or amyloid plaques have a greater impact on cognitive function in older, non-demented adults. Half of the study participants had abnormal levels of beta amyloid and half vascular brain injury, or infarcts. It was really very clear that the amyloid had very little effect, but the vascular brain injury had distinctly negative effects. The more vascular brain injury the participants had, the worse their memory and the worse their executive function - their ability to organize and problem solve."