Swedish researchers find that a growing number of middle-aged adults between the ages of 50 and 60 appear to be seeking help for memory-related problems — often concerned they are in the beginning stages of dementia — but after testing, they are found to be quite normal.
“We are seeing a growing number of people who are seeking help because of self-perceived cognitive problems, but have no objective signs of disease despite thorough investigation,” said Marie Eckerström, doctoral student at the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology and licensed psychologist at the Memory Unit of Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg.
These patients represent one-third of those coming to the memory unit at the hospital, and clinicians wanted to get an idea of who they are. The memory unit investigates suspicions of early stages of dementia in those who seek help.
For her study, Eckerström followed a few hundred of these patients, both women and men, for an average of four years.
These patients are often highly educated professionals who are relatively young in this context, between the ages of 50 and 60. When tested at the hospital, their memory functions are intact. However, in their daily environment where they are often under pressure to learn new things, they believe something is not right.
The link between self-perceived memory problems and stress was shown to be quite strong. Seven out of 10 in the group had experiences of severe stress, clinical burnout, or depression.
“We found that problems with stress were very common. Patients often tell us they are living or have lived with severe stress for a prolonged period of time and this has affected their cognitive functions to such an extent that they feel like they are sick and are worried about it,” said Eckerström.
“In some cases, this is combined with a close family member with dementia, giving the patient more knowledge but also increasing their concern.”
Perceived memory problems are common and may be an early sign of future development of dementia. Among the study participants who also had deviating biomarkers in their cerebrospinal fluid (beta-amyloid, total-tau, and phospho-tau), the risk of deteriorating and developing dementia was more than double. And yet, the majority of participants showed no signs of deterioration after four years.
“These individuals have no objective signs of dementia. The issue instead is usually stress, anxiety, or depression,” Eckerström said.
Only one in 10 patients with self-perceived memory problems only developed dementia during the study period. And while this is a higher percentage than the population in general, it is still low, according to Eckerström.
“It is not a matter of just anyone who has occasional memory problems in everyday life. It is more a matter of individuals who sought medical attention to investigate whether they are developing serious problems,” said Eckerström.
Source: University of Gothenburg