According to recent criteria, Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) represents a clinical condition with multiple cognitive presentations (amnesic and non amnesic) that can be supported by different types of brain lesions (mainly vascular and atrophic). In order to asses if the cognitive presentation and the rate of progression differ according to the type of brain pathology, two populations of MCI patients, characterized by hippocampal atrophy (n: 39) and vascular subcortical pathology (n: 36) respectively, on the basis of MRI findings, were investigated. Patients underwent an extensive neuropsychological test battery twice (at baseline and at two years follow-up), which is made up of the MMSE and various tests of episodic memory, short-term memory, visual-spatial abilities, executive functions, language, attention, praxis and psychomotor speed. Atrophic and vascular MCI patients showed a remarkably different pattern of impairment at the baseline. The former were significantly more impaired in episodic memory tasks. The latter were more impaired in an action naming task. At the follow up examination, the rate of progression to dementia was higher in atrophic (14/39) than in vascular (5/36) MCI patients. The comparison between neuropsychological scores obtained at the baseline and at the followup showed that atrophic MCI patients underwent a severe decline in several cognitive domains, whereas vascular MCI patients showed a significant decline only in those tasks requiring executive abilities. Our results confirm that a selective and severe defect of episodic memory is associated with hippocampal atrophy and that MCI patients with atrophic lesions are more likely to convert to Alzheimers type dementia while MCI patients with vascular lesions are characterized by a slight decline in executive function over time and by a tendency to develop probable vascular forms of dementia.
Keywords: Mild cognitive impairment, Vascular dementia, Alzheimer dementia, Hippocampal atrophy, Subcortical vascular lesions, Alzheimer's disease, Periventricular hyper-intensities, Deep white matter hyper-intensities, Dementia, Memory, Executive functions, MRI, Neuropsychology
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