ABSTRACT

INTRODUCTION

To investigate the multifactorial processes underlying cognitive aging based on the hypothesis that multiple causal pathways and mechanisms (amyloid, vascular, and resilience) influence longitudinal cognitive decline in each individual through worsening brain health.

METHODS

We identified 1230 elderly (aged ≥50 years) with average 4.9 years of clinical follow‐up and with amyloid‐PET, DTI, and structural MRI scans from the population‐based Mayo Clinic Study of Aging. We examined imaging markers of amyloid and brain health (white matter microstructural integrity and cortical thinning), systemic vascular health preceding the imaging markers, and early to mid‐life intellectual enrichment to predict longitudinal cognitive trajectories. We used latent growth curve models for modeling longitudinal cognitive decline.

RESULTS

All the pathways (amyloid, vascular, resilience) converged through their effects on cortical thinning and worsening cognition and together explained patterns in cognitive decline. Resilience and vascular pathways (aging process, sex differences, education/occupation, and systemic vascular health) had significant impact on white matter microstructural integrity. Education/occupation levels contributed to white matter integrity through systemic vascular health. Worsening white matter integrity contributed to significant cortical thinning and subsequently longitudinal cognitive decline. Baseline amyloidosis contributed to a significant proportion of cognitive decline that accelerated with longer follow‐up times and its primary impact was through cortical thinning.

INTERPRETATION

We developed an integrated framework to help explain the dynamic and complex process of cognitive aging by considering key causal pathways. Such an approach is not only important for better comprehension of cognitive aging processes but can aid in the development of successful intervention strategies.

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