Document Type



Medicine and Health Sciences



To compare MRI data to functional assessments of mobility, urinary control, and cognition to determine common or distinctive features in the distribution of brain white matter hyperintensities (WMHs) associated with functional decline/impairment.


Baseline data from subjects 75-89 years enrolled in a longitudinal study. Assessors and subjects were blinded to group assignment.


99 subjects were enrolled using a balanced 3×3 matrix stratified by age and mobility performance. Exclusion criteria included: medication, systemic conditions, and neurologic diseases which can compromise mobility.


Healthy community-dwelling volunteers.


WMHs were identified using semi-automated segmentation method and regional burdens were assessed utilizing a WM parcellation atlas. Quantitative measures of mobility, urinary incontinence (UI) severity and executive function/processing speed were obtained.


WMHs occur predictably in predominantly periventricular areas. There were powerful correlations between global (tWMH) and regional WMH (rWMH) with r values of 0.5-0.9 for eight of ten structures analyzed. The tWMH predicted functional measures of UI, mobility and executive function/processing speed nearly as well as the best regional measures. The total volume of WMH independently explains 5-11% of the variability for mobility, UI severity and executive function/processing speed and is a sensitive (0.7-0.8) predictor of functional decline. The odds of decline in each of the three functional domains increased by 1.5 to 2.4 times with each 1% increase in tWMH.


This work establishes the importance of brain WMH burden in three major geriatric syndromes. Our findings support the inclusion of total WMH burden as a risk factor in the predictive/diagnostic criteria.


J Am Geriatr Soc. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2013 September 6. Published in final edited form as: J Am Geriatr Soc. 2010 February; 58(2): 275–281. Published online 2010 January 26. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2009.02699.x PMCID: PMC3764600 NIHMSID: NIHMS212514