Contrasting Olfaction, Vision, and Audition as Predictors of Cognitive Change and Impairment in Non-Demented Older Adults

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Abstract

Objective: This study examines the relative utility of a particular class of noninvasive functional biomarkers—sensory functions—for detecting those at risk of cognitive decline and impairment. Three central research objectives were examined including whether (a) olfactory function, vision, and audition exhibited significant longitudinal declines in nondemented older adults; (b) multiwave change for these sensory function indicators predicted risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI); and (c) change within persons for each sensory measure shared dynamic time-varying associations with within-person change in cognitive functioning. Method: A longitudinal sample (n = 408) from the Victoria Longitudinal Study was assembled. Three cognitive status subgroups were identified: not impaired cognitively, single-assessment MCI, and multiple-assessment MCI. Results: We tested independent predictive associations, contrasting change in sensory function as predictors of cognitive decline and impairment, utilizing both linear mixed models and logistic regression analysis. Olfaction and, to a lesser extent, vision were identified as the most robust predictors of cognitive status and decline; audition showed little predictive influence. Conclusions: These findings underscore the potential utility of deficits in olfactory function, in particular, as an early marker of age- and pathology-related cognitive decline. Functional biomarkers may represent potential candidates for use in the early stages of a multistep screening approach for detecting those at risk of cognitive impairment, as well as for targeted intervention.

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