Risks Related to Mild Memory Problems

Amnestic mild cognitive impairment and dementia carry elevated risks of death

(RxWiki News) Even when there is not a cure for a condition, detecting it early can help individuals plan, receive early treatment and improve their long-term quality of life.

Early detection can be valuable with cognitive impairment, which refers to memory or thinking problems in the brain as a person ages.

A recent study has found that having a form of mild cognitive impairment (which is different from Alzheimer's) or dementia can put seniors at a higher risk for an early death.

"Talk to your doctor if you notice difficulties with memory."

The study was led in part by senior author Richard Lipton, MD, a neurology professor and vice chair of the neurology department at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center.

Dr. Lipton is also director of the Einstein Aging Study, a long-term study that began receiving funding in 1980 to track people's brains as they age. He and his colleagues studied 733 participants who were enrolled in the study.

All the individuals were at least 70 years old and lived in the Bronx in New York City, and they were followed for an average of 5 years.

All of them had received an evaluation of their cognitive (brain) skills at the start of the study as well as one annual follow-up.

Each participant was tested to see if they carried a gene variation called APOE-4, which is associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's.

Those who had amnestic mild cognitive impairment were a little more than twice as likely to die during the study period than those with normal brains unaffected by any cognitive impairment.

Amnestic mild cognitive impairment affects a person's memory but so much that it necessarily interferes with their daily life. They generally have more memory problems than other people of a similar age and education level.

It is different from non-amnestic mild cognitive impairment, which also affects a person's thinking skills, judgment and ability to plan or organize. No links were seen in this study between non-amnestic mild cognitive impairment and death in the study.

Another association the researchers found was a three times greater risk of death among those who had dementia compared to people with normal cognitive function.

Additionally, a higher risk of death was seen among those with the APOE-4 gene variation, with severe depression or with a large number of other physical and mental health conditions.

"While there is no treatment for mild cognitive impairment, dementia or Alzheimer's, these findings support the benefits of early detection and monitoring of cognitive impairment in order to prolong life," Dr. Lipton said.

The Alzheimer's Association estimates that 10 to 20 percent of individuals over age 65 might have some form of cognitive impairment, based on evidence pulled from long-term studies.

This study was presented July 16 at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Vancouver. The research was funded by the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Because the study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, its results should be regarded as preliminary and still require review by researchers in the field. No information was available regarding disclosures.

Review Date: 
July 24, 2012