Background: Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) is a sensitive method for detecting white matter damage, and in cross-sectional studies DTI measures correlate with age-related cognitive decline. However, there is little data on whether DTI can detect age-related changes over short time periods, and whether such change correlates with cognitive function.
Methods: In a community sample of 84 middle-aged and elderly adults MRI and cognitive testing was performed at baseline and after two-years. Changes in DTI white matter histograms, white matter hyperintensity (WMH) volume and brain volume were determined. Change over time in performance on tests of executive function, working memory and information processing speed were also assessed.
Results: Significant change in all MRI measures was detected. For cognition, change was detected for working memory and this correlated with change in DTI only. In a stepwise regression, with change in working memory as the dependent variable, a DTI histogram measure explained 10.8% of the variance in working memory. Change in WMH or brain volume did not contribute to the model.
Conclusions: DTI is sensitive to age-related change in white matter ultrastructure and appears useful for monitoring age-related white matter change even over short time periods.