Researchers in Spain have found that older people with faster memory decline may be less likely to die from cancer. The study is published on Wednesday 9 April in the journal Neurology online.
Doctors at the University Hospital 12 of October, in Madrid, followed 2,627 people aged 65+, none of whom had dementia at the start of the study, for 13 years. When the study began, and again three years later, the participants were given a mini-mental state examination (MMSE) – a test to measure thinking and memory skills that is commonly used to diagnose dementia.
After 13 years, 1,003 people (38% of the group) had died during the study. When the researchers looked at these people’s death certificates, they found that those whose MMSE scores dropped the most in the first three years were less likely to have died from cancer – with 21% dying from the disease, compared to 29% of those whose memory improved, stayed the same or declined more slowly.
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:
“This study reports fewer cancer deaths in those with more rapidly declining memory, but the differences are subtle. We don’t know from these results whether people who died of other conditions may also have developed dementia before they died, and it’s not clear whether other factors could have influenced the results. It’s important to note that although the mild memory problems explored here can be a precursor to dementia, not everyone with this sort of cognitive decline will develop the condition, and some may see their memory improve.
“Some previous research has suggested that people who develop dementia may have a lower cancer risk, but it’s not yet understood why this might be. Further work to better understand this question may reveal new clues to help tackle the diseases that cause dementia, but investment in research is crucial.”