There are several lines of evidence pointing to fetal and other early origins of diseases of the aging brain, but there are no data directly addressing the hypotheses in an older population. We investigated the association of fetal size to late-age measures of brain structure and function in a large cohort of older men and women and explored the modifying effect of education on these associations.
Within the AGES (Age Gene/Environment Susceptibility)-Reykjavik population-based cohort (born between 1907 and 1935), archived birth records were abstracted for 1254 men and women who ~75 years later underwent an examination that included brain MRI and extensive cognitive assessment.
Adjustment for intracranial volume, demographic and medical history characteristics, and lower Ponderal index at birth (per kg/m(3)), an indicator of third-trimester fetal wasting, was significantly associated with smaller volumes of total brain and white matter; ßs (95% confidence intervals) were -1.0 (-1.9 to -0.0) and -0.5 (-1.0 to -0.0) mL. Furthermore, lower Ponderal index was associated with slower processing speed and reduced executive functioning but only in those with low education (ß [95% confidence interval]: -0.136 [-0.235 to -0.036] and -0.077 [-0.153 to -0.001]).
This first study of its kind provides clinical measures suggesting that smaller birth size, as an indicator of a suboptimal intrauterine environment, is associated with late-life alterations in brain tissue volume and function. In addition, it shows that the effects of a suboptimal intrauterine environment on late-life cognitive function were present only in those with lower educational levels.
Coronary artery calcium (CAC) and physical performance have been shown to be associated with mortality, but it is not clear whether one of them modifies the association. We investigated the association between the extent of CAC and physical performance among older individuals and explored these individual and combined effects on cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality and non-CVD mortality.
We studied 4074 participants of the AGES-Reykjavik Study who were free from coronary heart disease, had a CAC score calculated from computed tomography scans and had data on mobility limitations and gait speed at baseline in 2002-2006 at a mean age of 76 years. Register-based mortality was available until 2009.
Odds for mobility limitation and slow gait increased according to the extent of CAC. Altogether 645 persons died during the follow-up. High CAC, mobility limitation and slow gait were independent predictors of CVD mortality and non-CVD mortality. The joint effect of CAC and gait speed on non-CVD mortality was synergistic, i.e. compared to having low CAC and normal gait, the joint effect of high CAC and slow gait exceeded the additive effect of these individual exposures on non-CVD mortality. For CVD mortality, the effect was additive i.e. the joint effect of high CAC and slow gait did not exceed the sum of the individual exposures.
The extent of CAC and decreased physical performance were independent predictors of mortality and the joint presence of these risk factors increased the risk of non-CVD mortality above and beyond the individual effects.
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We studied the effect of birth size on glucose and insulin metabolism among old non-diabetic individuals. We also explored the combined effect of birth size and midlife body mass index (BMI) on type 2 diabetes in old age. Our study comprised 1,682 Icelanders whose birth records included anthropometrical data. The same individuals had participated in the prospective population-based Reykjavik Study, where BMI was assessed at a mean age of 47 years, and in the AGES-Reykjavik Study during 2002 to 2006, where fasting glucose, insulin and HbA1c were measured and homeostasis model assessment for the degree of insulin resistance (HOMA-IR) calculated at a mean age of 75.5 years. Type 2 diabetes was determined as having a history of diabetes, using glucose-modifying medication or fasting glucose of >7.0 mmol/l. Of the participants, 249 had prevalent type 2 diabetes in old age. Lower birth weight and body length were associated with higher fasting glucose, insulin, HOMA-IR and HbA1c among old non-diabetic individuals. Higher birth weight and ponderal index at birth decreased the risk for type 2 diabetes in old age, odds ratio (OR), 0.61 [95 % confidence interval (CI), 0.48-0.79] and 0.96 (95 % CI, 0.92-1.00), respectively. Compared with those with high birth weight and low BMI in midlife, the odds of diabetes was almost five-fold for individuals with low birth weight and high BMI (OR, 4.93; 95 % CI, 2.14-11.37). Excessive weight gain in adulthood might be particularly detrimental to the health of old individuals with low birth weight.