Heart rate and blood pressure variability : association with white matter lesions and cognitive function following stroke
Dementia presents a significant health care burden. Older post-stroke patients suffer high rates of dementia. Subcortical ischaemia may be an important mechanism of cognitive decline, particularly in older patients with cerebrovascular disease. It is hypothesised that abnormal heart rate and blood pressure variability will increase white matter lesion volume through hypoperfusion. This may lead to a subcortical pattern of cognitive decline characterised for example by deficits in attention and concentration. Stroke patients aged > 75 years and free of dementia had a series of cardiovascular autonomic, brain imaging and neuropsychometric investigations performed more than three months following incident stroke. Annual neuropsychometric assessment included CAMCOG score and measures of reaction time and concentration using a series of visual and numerical tasks presented on computer (Cognitive Drug Research Assessment System). Autonomic function is impaired in older stroke patients in the long term after stroke. These deficits are weakly associated with cross-sectional measures of sub-cortical performance but do not predict subsequent decline in cognitive function. Twenty-four hour blood pressure variability is associated with white matter disease and excessive nocturnal dipping is associated with impaired cognitive function. Again blood pressure variability does not help predict subsequent change in white matter lesion burden or cognitive function. This study provides limited support for the hypoperfusion theory of post-stroke cognitive impairment. However it does not indicate a role for heart rate and blood pressure variability in the mechanism of increasing white matter disease or decline in cognition in the two years following stroke.