Memory complaints in older women may signal memory problems years later, research suggests

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BBC Driving with DementiaOlder women who report problems with their memory may be at a higher risk of being diagnosed with memory and thinking impairments (including dementia) decades later, suggests a study published today (Wednesday 28 October 2015) in the online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

1,107 women without dementia, at an average age of 70, were asked several times over 18 years: “Do you feel you have more problems with memory than most?” At the end of the study, women completed tests of thinking abilities to diagnose whether they had mild cognitive impairment or dementia. Other important factors such as years of education, depression, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and heart disease were considered.

The study showed:

  • 8% of women reported memory problems at the start of the study. They were 70% more likely to receive a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment or dementia during the 18 year study than women who did not have any memory complaints
  • 53% of those with memory complaints went on to be diagnosed with memory impairments, compared to 38% of those with no memory complaints

Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Society said: “Changes in the brain that cause dementia can start many years before symptoms appear, and a considerable research effort is underway to identify people in these early stages. Previous studies investigating the link between memory complaints and dementia have only followed participants for an average of four to five years. This 18 year study gives us a better insight into how useful these complaints might be in identifying who will go on to develop dementia.

“Although women reporting memory complaints in this study were more likely to develop dementia over the next 18 years, it is important to recognise that there are many factors that can affect the performance of memory over time. Notably, the women who reported memory complaints were also more likely to have experienced other risk factors for developing dementia, such as depression or a heart attack. More research is needed to understand when memory complaints are an early indicator of dementia or when they are just a normal part of getting older.

“Many people notice that their memory gets worse as they get older, but it can be difficult to tell whether this is due to normal ageing or is a sign of an underlying medical condition, like dementia. If you are worried about your memory you should visit your GP.”

Reference: Kaup, Allison R. PhD; Nettiksimmons, Jasmine, PhD; LeBlanc, Erin S., MD, MPH and Yaffe, Kristine MD (2015), ‘Memory complaints and risk of cognitive impairment after nearly 2 decades among older women’, in Neurology

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