Processing speed in normal aging: effects of white matter hyperintensities and hippocampal volume loss


Kathryn V Papp, Richard F Kaplan, Beth Springate, Nicola Moscufo, Dorothy B Wakefield, Charles RG Guttmann, and Leslie Wolfson. 2014. “Processing speed in normal aging: effects of white matter hyperintensities and hippocampal volume loss.” Neuropsychol Dev Cogn B Aging Neuropsychol Cogn, 21, 2, Pp. 197-213.


Changes in cognitive functioning are said to be part of normal aging. Quantitative MRI has made it possible to measure structural brain changes during aging which may underlie these decrements which include slowed information processing and memory loss. Much has been written on white matter hyperintensities (WMH), which are associated with cognitive deficits on tasks requiring processing speed and executive functioning, and hippocampal volume loss, which is associated with memory decline. Here we examine volumetric MRI measures of WMH and hippocampal volume loss together in relation to neuropsychological tests considered to be measures of executive functioning and processing speed in 81 non-demented elderly individuals, aged 75-90. Correlational analysis showed that when controlling for age, both greater WMH volume and smaller hippocampal volume were correlated with slower performances on most tests with the exception of a battery of continuous performance tests in which only WMH was correlated with slower reaction time (RT). We then performed a series of hierarchical multiple regression analyses to examine the independent contributions of greater WMH volume and reduced hippocampal volume to executive functioning and processing speed. The results showed that for the four measures requiring executive functioning and speed of processing, WMH volume and hippocampal volume combined predicted between 21.4% and 37% of the explained variance. These results suggest that WM integrity and hippocampal volume influence cognitive decline independently on tasks involving processing speed and executive function independent of age.