Study Title
Association between age at onset of multimorbidity and incidence of dementia: 30 year follow-up in Whitehall II prospective cohort study

Céline Ben Hassen, Aurore Fayosse, Benjamin Landré, Martina Raggi, Mikaela Bloomberg, Séverine Sabia, Archana Singh-Manoux


To examine the association of midlife and late life multimorbidity, including severity of multimorbidity, with incident dementia.

Prospective cohort study.

Civil service departments in London (Whitehall II study, study inception in 1985-88).

10,095 participants, aged 35 to 55 at baseline.

Incident dementia at follow-up between 1985 and 2019. Cause specific Cox proportional hazards regression was used to examine the association of multimorbidity overall and at age 55, 60, 65, and 70 with subsequent dementia, taking into account the competing risk of death.

The prevalence of multimorbidity (≥2 chronic diseases) was 6.6% (655/9937) at age 55 and 31.7% (2464/7783) at age 70; 639 cases of incident dementia occurred over a median follow-up of 31.7 years. After adjustment for sociodemographic factors and health behaviours, multimorbidity at age 55 was associated with subsequent risk of dementia (difference in incidence rate per 1000 person years 1.56, 95% confidence interval 0.62 to 2.77; hazard ratio 2.44, 95% confidence interval 1.82 to 3.26). The association weakened progressively with older age at onset of multimorbidity. At age 65, onset of multimorbidity before age 55 was associated with 3.86 (1.80 to 6.52) per 1000 person years higher incidence of dementia (hazard ratio 2.46, 1.80 to 2.26) and onset between 60 and 65 was associated with 1.85 (0.64 to 3.39) per 1000 person years higher incidence (1.51, 1.16 to 1.97). Severity of multimorbidity (≥3 chronic diseases) at age 55 was associated with a 5.22 (1.14 to 11.95) per 1000 person years higher incidence of dementia (hazard ratio 4.96, 2.54 to 9.67); the same analyses at age 70 showed 4.49 (2.33 to 7.19) per 1000 person years higher incidence (1.65, 1.25 to 2.18).

Multimorbidity, particularly when onset is in midlife rather than late life, has a robust association with subsequent dementia. The increasingly younger age at onset of multimorbidity makes prevention of multimorbidity in people with a first chronic disease important.

December 15, 2021
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