Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society

Regular Articles

Memory Complaints with and without Memory Impairment: The Impact of Leukoaraiosis on Cognition

Melissa Lamara1 c1, Thomas M. Dannhausera2a3, Zuzana Walkera2a3, Joanne E. Roddaa2a3, Darren J. Cutinhaa2a3 and Sukhwinder S. Shergilla1

a1 Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, London, United Kingdom

a2 University College London, London, United Kingdom

a3 North Essex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Chelmsford, United Kingdom


White matter alterations, leukoaraiosis (LA) on structural MRI, are associated with cognitive deficits and increased risk of dementia. LA may also impact on subjective memory complaints in otherwise healthy older adults. Little is known about the interplay between LA memory complaints and cognition. We investigated cognitive phenotypes associated with LA in 42 non-demented older adults categorized as having subjective cognitive complaints with no objective cognitive impairment—the subjective cognitive impairment group (SCI; n = 12), amnesic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI; n = 20), or healthy controls (HC; n = 11). We measured LA severity on MRI with a 40-point visual rating scale. Controlling for age and Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) score, analyses revealed multiple between-group differences. Follow-up linear regression models investigating the underlying contributors to each clinic group's cognitive profile indicated that LA contributed to learning slope variance (after accounting for age and MMSE) but only for the SCI group. Although the SCI group showed a significantly steeper learning slope when compared to HC and aMCI, increasing LA severity negatively impacted this group's rate of learning. This, in conjunction with the significant contribution of age on SCI learning slope performance variance suggests that greater LA burden at a younger age may contribute to subtle changes in learning for individuals with subjective cognitive complaints. (JINS, 2011, 17, 1104–1112)

(Received April 13 2011)

(Revised July 11 2011)

(Accepted July 14 2011)


  • Subjective cognitive impairment;
  • MCI;
  • White matter;
  • Leukoaraiosis;
  • Dementia;
  • Learning and memory


c1 Correspondence and reprint requests to: Melissa Lamar, Department of Psychology, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, Box P077 De Crespigny Park, London SE5. E-mail: