Prospective associations between white matter hyperintensities and lower extremity function

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To evaluate the relationship of white matter hyperintensities (WMH) with decline in lower extremity function (LEF) over approximately 3 years in dementia-free older adults with memory complaints.


We obtained brain MRI data from 458 community-dwelling adults, aged 70 years or over, at baseline, and from 358 adults over an average follow-up of 963 days. We evaluated LEF using the Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB). We related baseline WMH volumes and progression to SPPB scores over time, using mixed-effect linear regressions. For the secondary analyses, we categorized baseline WMH volume into quartiles, and dichotomized the WMH progression to compare fast and slow progression.


Baseline WMH volume (β = −0.017, 95% confidence interval [CI] −0.025 to −0.009), as well as WMH progression (β = −0.002, 95% CI −0.003 to −0.001), significantly associated with a decline in SPPB performance in adjusted analyses. Compared with the lowest quartile of baseline WMH volume, the highest quartile associated with a decline in SPPB performance (β = −0.301, 95% CI −0.558 to −0.044). Fast progression also associated with a decline in SPPB performance. We found clinically meaningful differences in the SPPB, with higher scores in participants with slow progression of WMH, at both 24 and 36 months.


Baseline level and WMH progression associated with longitudinal decline in SPPB performance among older adults. We detected clinically meaningful differences in SPPB performance on comparing fast with slow progression of WMH, suggesting that speed of WMH progression is an important determinant of LEF during aging.

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