A new study suggests that older people who report problems with their memory may be more likely to develop dementia later on. The study is published on Wednesday 24 September in the journal Neurology.
Researchers at the University of Kentucky analysed around 10 years of data from 531 people who were enrolled in a study called Biologically Resilient Adults in Neurological Studies (BRAiNS). At the start of the study, the participants had an average age of 73 and all scored well in tests of their memory. Once a year, each participant was given a series of memory tests and asked to report if they had noticed any changes in their memory. The brains of 243 people who died during the study were also examined for signs of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia.
Over the course of the study, 296 people (56% of the group) reported that they had experienced changes in their memory. These people were more likely to later be diagnosed with dementia or mild cognitive impairment (MCI) – memory problems that are severe enough to affect daily life, but not severe enough to be classed as dementia. The results showed that people in this group developed MCI around nine years after reporting memory changes, while dementia developed after around 12 years on average. Of all those who developed dementia during the study, 80% had reported memory changes earlier on.
The researchers argue that self-reported memory complaints could be an indicator of increased dementia risk, even when a person scores well in memory tests.
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:
“Many people will experience a decline in memory as they age, and this single study adds to evidence showing that some people who experience mild memory loss in older age go on to develop dementia. Although we all forget things from time to time, memory loss in dementia is more severe than occasional bouts of forgetfulness, and it’s important to note that many people who report mild memory problems do not develop the condition. Anyone with concerns about their memory should speak to their doctor.
“Currently 830,000 people are living with dementia in the UK and with that number set to grow, investment in research is crucial. Understanding why some people with mild memory loss go on to develop dementia, while others don’t, is a key goal for research and could provide new clues for preventing the condition.”