Background: Two important consequences of the normal ageing process are sarcopenia (the age-related loss of muscle mass and function) and age-related cognitive decline. Existing data support positive relationships between muscle function, cognition and brain structure. However, studies investigating these relationships at older ages are lacking and rarely include a measure of muscle size. Here we test whether neck muscle size is positively associated with cognition and brain structure in older men.
Methods: We studied 51 healthy older men with mean age 73.8 (sd 1.5) years. Neck muscle cross-sectional area (CSA) was measured from T1-weighted MR-brain scans using a validated technique. We measured multiple cognitive domains including verbal and visuospatial memory, executive functioning and estimated prior cognitive ability. Whole brain, ventricular, hippocampal and cerebellar volumes were measured with MRI. General linear models (ANCOVA) were performed.
Results: Larger neck muscle CSA was associated with less whole brain atrophy (t = 2.86, p = 0.01, partial eta squared 17%). Neck muscle CSA was not associated with other neuroimaging variables or current cognitive ability. Smaller neck muscle CSA was unexpectedly associated with higher prior cognition (t = -2.12, p < 0.05, partial eta squared 10%). Conclusions: In healthy older men, preservation of whole brain volume (i. e. less atrophy) is associated with larger muscle size. Longitudinal ageing studies are now required to investigate these relationships further.