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Alzheimer's, Dementia & Mental Health - Opinion

Editor Disagrees with Study Predicting Mental Decline After Admitting Memory Problems

‘If noticing memory slip signals memory, cognitive decline, all my friends are on slippery slope’

By Tucker Sutherland, editor, SeniorJournal.com

Tucker Sutherland, editor & publisher, SeniorJournal.comSept. 26, 2014 – Research from a reputable source finds that people who notice their memory is slipping are much more likely to develop memory and other cognitive problems. Well, there go all my senior friends and myself. At age 76, I mostly hangout with my tennis buddies and very “with it” old-time friends that I share with my wife. I don’t know of a one of us that does not occasionally complain about our memory.

But scientists at the University of Kentucky's Sanders-Brown Center on Aging say that people who notice their memory is slipping may be on to something. Their research appears to confirm that self-reported memory complaints are strong predictors of clinical memory impairment later in life.

Richard Kryscio, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Biostatistics and associate director of the Alzheimer's Disease Center at UK, and his group asked 531 people with an average age of 73, and free of dementia, if they had noticed any changes in their memory in the last year.

The participants were also given annual memory and thinking tests for an average of 10 years. After the participants died their brains were examined for evidence of Alzheimer's disease.

 

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During their study, 56 percent of the participants reported changes in their memory, at an average age of 82. In my group, 100 percent complain of memory problems and our average age is probably more like 72… or younger.

The study found that seniors in their study who reported changes in their memory were nearly three times more likely to develop memory and thinking problems. About one in six participants developed dementia during the study, and 80 percent of those first reported memory changes.

Ouch! This is really bad news for my friends.

"What's notable about our study is the time it took for the transition from self-reported memory complaint to dementia or clinical impairment - about 12 years for dementia and nine years for clinical impairment - after the memory complaints began," Kryscio said.

"That suggests that there may be a significant window of opportunity for intervention before a diagnosable problem shows up."

Man, do my friends and I need that intervention… and I’m not joking.

Kryscio says that while these findings add to a growing body of evidence that self-reported memory complaints can be predictive of cognitive impairment later in life, there isn't cause for immediate alarm if you can't remember where you left your keys.

Well, if he includes losing your keys as a memory problem, my friends and I are way over the hill. For years I have seen buddies on the tennis court lose their racquets during a match. A female friend of ours years ago bought my Lincoln that had a push button entry panel on the door. She called me a few weeks afterwards to say her locked car was running, she could not remember the combination and wondered if I still knew it. I didn't.

"Certainly, someone with memory issues should report it to their doctor so they can be followed. Unfortunately, however, we do not yet have preventative therapies for Alzheimer's disease or other illnesses that cause memory problems," adds Kryscio.

I’m not sure if he means followed, like sneaking around behind me to gather up things I lose, or just keeping tabs on how much stuff I lose and how often it happens.

I don’t want to make light of this research, which was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute on Aging, and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, and was published in the Sept. 24, 2014, online issue of Neurology.

But, I have some disconnect with this report. In all sincerity, I think all of my older friends complain about memory problems. I think it is because we all have them. I prefer to think of it like a computer. The older we get the more data we cram into our brains and the harder it is to find something when you need it.

And, on the other hand, I was the caregiver for my mother over a long multi-year decline into Alzheimer’s and death. She never complained about her memory or admitted she had a problem, even on the Christmas day when should must have asked me eight times what day it was. It was also on that same Christmas when my wife and I spent most of the day looking my mother’s purse, which she insisted on hiding in the house, but never could remember where she had put it.

Twice she had me find her a new doctor after the old ones told her she was showing signs of Alzheimer's.

Now, these are the type of memory and mental complications that I say point to a problem. I’m not ready to agree that losing my keys is the beginning of my mental decline.

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