NEW YORK – Many people over age 60 complain of memory changes, and those who do are more likely to develop cognitive impairment or dementia about nine to 12 years later, according to a new study.
“There’s a fair amount of literature (showing) that if someone has a true subjective memory complaint, they are at higher risk, that’s a part of what we were able to find,” said lead author Richard J. Kryscio of the University of Kentucky in Lexington.
“But we were able to attach a time to it as well,” Kryscio told Reuters Health by phone.
He and his co-authors studied 531 people, all over age 60, who enrolled in a study at the University of Kentucky when they were mentally healthy, before 2005.
Each year, researchers asked the participants if they perceived a change in their memories over the past year and also tested for mild cognitive impairment – the first clinical diagnosis of age-related brain deterioration – and for dementia.
Almost 56 percent of the participants did complain of changes in memory at some point during the study, and they were between two and three times more likely to be diagnosed with cognitive impairment, which happened an average of nine years later, according to the results in Neurology.
A dementia diagnosis came an average of twelve years after a subjective memory complaint.
About half of the original group in the study have already died, and their brains were examined postmortem for physical signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
Of those who died without a diagnosis of impairment or dementia, the plaques associated with Alzheimer’s were more common in the brains of people who had complained of memory changes.
This supports accumulating evidence that people’s concern about their memory is related to cognitive decline, which is related to Alzheimer’s disease, said Rebecca Amariglio, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who was not part of the new study.
“When you first notice these changes, don’t become alarmed that you’re going to quickly decline,” she told Reuters Health by phone.
Many people may notice decline in memory, but it might be over several years, rather than over one year, which is what they measured here, she said.
If you have concerns, letting your doctor know and getting your memory checked can be helpful, Kryscio said. Even if you are still cognitively healthy, it will give your doctors a baseline to measure changes against years later.
Exercising, keeping mentally active, sleeping well, socializing, refraining from alcohol and drugs and keeping blood pressure under control all reduce the risk of cognitive decline, Amariglio said.
“If you’re worried about your memory, talk to your doctor,” she said.
It’s too early to say if there is a way to intervene after subjective memory complaints have occurred to stave off dementia, but some clinical trials are beginning in order to answer that precise question, she said.
Amariglio noted that one large trial, the A4 Study led by her colleague Dr. Reisa Sperling, has just begun and is still enrolling healthy older adults who may have noticed memory changes but are cognitively healthy. Reuters