US scientists have developed a new scoring system designed to predict an older person’s risk of developing mild cognitive impairment – problems with memory and thinking that can precede dementia.
The study, published today in the journal Neurology, followed 1,449 people between the ages of 70 and 89 who didn’t have any problems with memory and thinking. The researchers tested the participants’ memory and thinking skills at 15 month intervals for an average of 4.8 years. Over the course of the study, they found 401 of those involved went on to develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
The researchers then analysed various aspects of the participants’ backgrounds – including medical histories, personality characteristics and lifestyle factors – and determined the degree to which each factor was linked with the risk of developing MCI. They used this information to develop a scoring system that can indicate an individual’s risk of MCI based on which of the factors apply to them. Some of the factors found to increase an individual’s risk score the most include a history of diabetes, high levels of agitation, and lower scores on tests of mental status.
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research for Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“This study highlights some factors that can influence the risk of developing problems with memory and thinking, but the effectiveness of the scoring system will need to be verified in larger groups of people with different backgrounds. While tests like this one could be valuable for identifying potential participants for research studies, or recommending those for further investigation, they are not yet suitable for screening people in the general population. Mild cognitive impairment can be a broad description and importantly, not everyone with it goes on to develop dementia. Research is currently underway to develop tools that could help doctors to reliably predict those people in the clinic who are most likely to develop dementia.
“In the meantime, current evidence suggests that the best way for us to reduce our risk of dementia is to take plenty of exercise, not smoke, eat a balanced diet, only drink in moderation, and keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check. If people have concerns about changes in their memory and thinking skills, we would recommend that they speak to their GP.”