The specific contributions of factors associated with an increased risk of stroke to cognitive decline and vascular dementia in elderly people remain somewhat unclear. We investigated the prevalence of vascular risk factors (RFs) and their role on the incidence of dementia, cognitive decline and death over a 6-year period in a sample of 377 non-demented community dwellers aged 75 years and over at the time of study entry. Presence and history of vascular RFs and cognitive decline over 6 years were ascertained using direct interviews, medical and cognitive examinations. Hypertension and history of heart disease were very common affecting about 50% of the participants. At 6 years, 114 (30%) participants had died, and 63 (16.7%) met diagnostic criteria for dementia. Hypertension was significantly associated with a greater cognitive decline but not with dementia. Smoking and stroke diagnosis showed a significant positive association with death. Reported hypercholesterolaemia was found to be associated with a protective effect for the development of dementia, for cognitive decline and for death over the 6-year period. All other associations were non-significant. Figures of dementia incidence are similar to previous studies in contrast to the lack of anticipated effects of the vascular RFs. The results indicate that in very old participants, the impact of vascular RFs changes with time and may no longer contribute to the development of dementia and cognitive decline.

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