Researchers have developed a new scoring method to help identify which older people are at greater risk for developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition that can eventually lead to full dementia.
“Our goal is to identify memory issues at the earliest possible stages,” said study author Ronald C. Petersen, M.D., Ph.D., of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.
“Understanding what factors can help us predict who will develop this initial stage of memory and thinking problems, called mild cognitive impairment, is crucial, because people with MCI have an increased risk of developing dementia.”
The study, published in the journal Neurology, recruited 1,449 participants, aged 70 to 89, who did not have current memory and thinking problems. At the beginning of the study and at visits every 15 months for an average of 4.8 years, subjects underwent memory and thinking tests. During the study period, 401 people, or 28 percent, developed MCI.
The scoring system took into account factors such as years of education, history of stroke or diabetes, and smoking. Researchers also factored in information gathered at the clinic visit, such as participants’ scores on tests of cognition as well as any reported symptoms of depression and anxiety.
All factors were assigned a score based on how much they contributed to the risk of developing thinking problems. For instance, people who were diagnosed with diabetes before the age of 75 were given an extra 14 points, while those with 12 or fewer years of education were given two points.
Among women, the group with the lowest risk had scores of less than 27 and the highest had scores of more than 46. For both men and women, those in the highest risk group were seven times more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment than those in the lowest group.
The biggest contributors to mild cognitive impairment were age, heart health risk factors, depression and anxiety disorders, and memory or functional abilities, which were all identified at the start of the study.
The APOE gene, which has been linked to a higher risk of dementia in previous studies, was determined to be only a moderate risk factor in the current study.
“This risk scale may be an inexpensive and easy way for doctors to identify people who should undergo more advanced testing for memory issues or may be better candidates for clinical trials,” said Petersen.
Source: American Academy of Neurology