The Impact of Cerebrovascular Burden and Stress on White Matter Integrity and Cognitive Function, During Healthy Ageing
As the ageing population swells, so does the risk of developing later-life neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia. There is abundant evidence to suggest that the presence of cerebrovascular risk factors significantly increases the likelihood of developing later-life dementia and so, preventing cerebrovascular disease and lessening the vascular burden is a critical pursuit (Hachinski et al., 2019). As such, the project aims to explore the impact of poor vascular health on the brain's structure and cognitive function and the relative contribution of individual vascular risk factors, such as hypertension, to the overall vascular burden. In doing so, the research will identify early indicators of cerebrovascular burden and the associated neurocognitive markers. Such findings will be particularly valuable in directing effective behavioural change and medical intervention in the earliest stages of disease progression and reduce the risk of cerebrovascular events and also, dementia.
In addition to understanding the impact of traditional cerebrovascular risk factors on the brain, the current research also seeks to ensure current assessment methods are sufficiently sensitive, by assessing whether the addition of other factors, such as stress, could improve the clinical estimates of cerebrovascular burden and risk. While stress is not traditionally included in assessments of cerebrovascular risk such as the Framingham, there is abundant empirical evidence which correlates stress with an increased risk of cerebrovascular disease and stroke (Waldstein et al., 2004; Tsutsumi et al., 2009; Aggarwal et al., 2014). As such, an additional aim of the project is to assess whether stress should also be considered a cerebrovascular risk factor, by comparing its impact on the brain to traditional risk factors. Such findings will ensure cerebrovascular risk assessment in clinical settings is sufficiently sensitive to detect cerebrovascular burden as early as possible and appropriately estimate the relative risk of cerebrovascular disease.