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Study finds those with memory loss more likely to develop dementia

Alzheimer's and Dementia
Posted at 4:14 PM, Sep 24, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-24 16:14:00-04

SARASOTA , Fla. -- New research suggests people without dementia who begin reporting memory issues may be more likely to develop dementia later, even if they have no clinical signs of the disease.

The ten-year study tracked more 500 people with an average age of 73 who were dementia free. They were given annual memory and thinking tests and asked if they noticed changes in their memory.

The study found people who reported memory complaints were nearly three times more likely to develop memory and thinking problems.

Nancy Hobson recently lost her ninety one year old mother with dementia. “She was diagnosed about a year ago.”

Hobson first noticed inappropriate word use, repeating herself, and anxiety when out of her routine, then forgetting to buy and even cook food. “And mom was such a wonderful cook that I couldn’t believe it when she burned the turkey and she swore that the oven wasn’t working.”

But thinking back about ten years ago, Hobson says there were little things like birthdays that were forgotten. “She began to forget names, and she'd say to me ‘now, which grandchild is that Nancy?’ She would forget appointments.”

Dr. Andrew Keegan of Roskamp Institute says there are initial warning signs of possible dementia down the road. “If someone feels they're just a little different from the way they used to be in the past, that's called subjective memory impairment.”

You subjectively feel there's something wrong, he says. “You may have forgot somebody’s name; that in and of itself isn’t enough. But if you used to always be remembering that name and this is something new to you, then that’s the problem.”

And over time, “those people that were complaining more often were more likely later on to go on and develop mild cognitive impairment and later have dementia.”

Studies of people with subjective memory complaints, involving spinal fluids, MRI's and PET scans, says Dr. Keegan, may also reveal clinical signs of developing dementia later on. “We look in their spinal fluid for things like amyloid, which is certain protein that accumulates with Alzheimer's. Or if we look using a PET scan, looking at how glucose or sugars metabolize, these may show as hints that dementia may be soon to come.”

The study supports the idea that memory complaints are common among older adults and may be signs of future memory and thinking problems. Doctors should not minimize these complaints and should take them seriously.