People who notice their memory may be slipping could have a greater chance of developing dementia later in life.
The new research, led by University of Kentucky experts, appears to confirm that self-reported memory complaints are strong predictors of clinical memory impairment later in life.
“What’s notable about our study is the time it took for this transition to dementia or clinical impairment to occur — about 12 years for dementia and nine years for clinical impairment — after the memory complaints began,” said study author Richard J. Kryscio, Ph.D.
“These findings suggest that there may be a window for intervention before a diagnosable problem shows up.”
The study is published online in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
For the study, 531 people with an average age of 73 and free of dementia were asked yearly if they noticed any changes in their memory.
They were also given annual memory and thinking tests for an average of 10 years. After death, 243 of the participants’ brains were examined for evidence of Alzheimer’s disease.
A total of 56 percent of the participants reported changes in their memory, at an average age of 82.
The study found that people who reported memory complaints were nearly three times more likely to develop memory and thinking problems.
About one in six participants developed dementia during the study, and 80 percent of those first reported memory changes.
“Our study adds strong evidence to the idea that memory complaints are common among older adults and are sometimes indicators of future memory and thinking problems. Doctors should not minimize these complaints and should take them seriously,” said Kryscio.
“However, memory complaints are not a cause for immediate alarm since impairment could be many years away. And, unfortunately, we do not yet have preventive therapies for Alzheimer’s disease and other illnesses that cause memory problems.”