For the study, 930 men in Sweden around the age of 70 without a history of stroke participated in three mental tests. The first test, called the Trail Making Test A, measures attention and visual-motor abilities. The second, the Trail Making Test B, measures the ability to execute and modify a plan. The third, the Mini Mental State Examination, is commonly used by doctors to measure cognitive decline.
During a 13-year period, 166 men developed a stroke or transient ischemic attack, or TIA. Brain infarction is the most common cause of stroke and happened to 105 patients. It causes tissue damage when the proper amount of blood does not reach the brain. Hemorrhage is another kind of stroke.
The study found that people who were among the bottom 25 percent of performers on the Trail Making Test B were three times more likely to have a stroke or a brain infarction compared to those who scored among the top 25 percent of performers on the test. The other two mental tests did not predict brain infarction or stroke.
"Our results support the idea that cognitive decline regardless of whether a person has dementia may predict risk of stroke," said Wiberg. "The Trial Making Test B is a simple and cost-effective test that, with more research, could be used to identify those persons for whom stroke prevention measures should be considered," said study author Bernice Wiberg, MD, with Uppsala University in Sweden.
Citation: B. Wiberg, L. Lind, L. Kilander, B. Zethelius, J. E. Sundelöf, and J. Sundström Cognitive function and risk of stroke in elderly men, Neurology, February 2010, 74, 379-385