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Cognitive impairment and mortality in a cohort of elderly people

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  • Catharine R Gale
  • C N Martyn
  • C Cooper

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    Rights statement: © Gale, C. R., Martyn, C. N., & Cooper, C. (1996). Cognitive impairment and mortality in a cohort of elderly people. BMJ, 312(7031), 608-611 doi: 10.1136/bmj.312.7031.608

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)608-611
Number of pages4
Issue number7031
Publication statusPublished - 9 Mar 1996


Objectives-To investigate the relation between cognitive function and cause specific mortality in people aged 65 and over.

Design-A 20 year follow up study of a cohort of randomly selected elderly people living in the community who in 1973-4 had taken part in a nutritional survey funded by the Department of Health and Social Security.

Setting-Eight areas in Britain (five in England, two in Scotland, and one in Wales).

Subjects-921 men and women whose cognitive function was assessed by a geriatrician in 1973-4 and for whom data on health, socioeconomic circumstances, and diet had been recorded.

Results-Cognitive impairment was associated with increased mortality, in particular death from ischaemic stroke. Those who scored 7 or less on the Hodkinson mental test had a relative risk of dying from stroke of 2.8 (95% confidence interval 1.4 to 5.5), compared with those who gained the maximum score (10), after adjustment for age, sex, blood pressure, serum cholesterol concentration, and vitamin C intake. These associations were independent of illness or social class. At the time of the nutritional survey, cognitive function was poorest in those with the lowest vitamin C status, whether measured by dietary intake or plasma ascorbic acid concentration. The relation between vitamin C status and cognitive function was independent of age, illness, social class, or other dietary variables.

Conclusion-The relation between cognitive function and risk of death from stroke suggests that cerebrovascular disease is an important cause of declining cognitive function. Vitamin C status may be a determinant of cognitive function in elderly people through its effect on atherogenesis. A high vitamin C intake may protect against both cognitive impairment and cerebrovascular disease.

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