Memory Slips Now May Signal Alzheimer’s Later

Alzheimer disease and other types of dementia may be more likely among those who have some memory trouble

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Do you often forget where you left your keys or parked the car? More frequent memory problems may be a sign of more brain function loss to come.

When people notice that their memory has been failing, that can indicate that they may develop dementia later, a new study found.

Everyone can be forgetful from time to time. When forgetfulness interferes with daily life, however, it may be a sign of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Dementia is a general term for a severe decline in mental ability. Its symptoms are a decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills.

This new study was led by Richard J. Kryscio, PhD, associate director of the Alzheimer's Disease Center at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

Dr. Kryscio and colleagues studied data on a group of 531 adults who were free of dementia at the start of the research. Patients enrolled at an average age of 73.

Every year, for an average of 10 years, patients were asked if they noticed changes in memory since their last visit.

About 56 percent had changes in memory by an average age of 82. The authors observed that those who had memory complaints were three times more likely to have memory and thinking impairment. About 1 in 6 developed dementia — and roughly 80 percent of those with dementia had noticed changes in memory when they had no other signs of the disease.

While some memory troubles may predict dementia that lies ahead, Dr. Kryscio said that these memory issues shouldn’t be a cause for too much alarm.

The time from noting memory problems to being diagnosed with dementia was about 12 years on average.

According to Dr. Xabier Beristain, of Loyola University Health System, having issues with memory is not necessarily a sign of dementia. For example, if a memory problem can be overcome simply by taking notes or using other tools, it may not be dementia. However, if one starts to forget freinds' names or if problems with memory and thinking start to interfere with daily function, it could be a sign of dementia.

Alzheimer's — the most common form of dementia — typically starts with memory problems, said Dr. Beristain, who was not involved in this study. But memory complaints alone cannot lead to a definite diagnosis. Rather, it is the memory complaints that would lead a doctor to further testing, he said.

"These findings suggest that there may be a window for intervention before a diagnosable problem shows up," Dr. Kryscio said in a press release.

He told dailyRx News that, if older adults feel they have a memory complaint, they should seek the advice of a clinician.

“The clinician will monitor their cognition going forward and if they feel further workup is needed they can eventually proceed with that,” he said.

"Some factors that affect memory — such as depression and vitamin B12 deficiency — are fixable,” Dr. Kryscio said.

He added, however, that there there are not yet any preventive treatments for Alzheimer's disease.

The study was published online Sept. 24 in Neurology.

The National Institute on Aging and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences funded the research. Authors received research support or fees from Eli Lilly and Company, Baxter and Esai, among others.

Review Date: 
September 24, 2014
Last Updated:
September 26, 2014