Memory Concerns and Later Dementia
Everyone is a little forgetful sometimes. Maybe you tend to misplace your keys now and then and can't remember where you put them, or you can't always recall the names of all of the actors in a movie you're watching. An occasional memory lapse is normal, but if you are noticing that it's becoming more pronounced, not surprisingly, it may signal a potential problem, even if you're only in your 60s. According to new research, older women who don't consider their memory to be optimal might be more likely to experience cognitive problems during their golden years.
The study, which was conducted at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and the University of California San Francisco, found that women bothered by memory lapses may be at higher risk of developing dementia or other forms of thinking difficulties over time.1 The subjects were 1,107 women, all of whom were 65 years old and showing no symptoms of dementia. They were tracked for an 18-year period.
At the beginning of the trial and periodically throughout its duration, the scientists asked the participants a specific question: "Do you feel you have more problems with memory than most?" During the initial interview, approximately eight percent of the volunteers--a total of 89 women--responded in the affirmative. At the end of the research period, nearly two decades later, all of the women were given tests that assessed their memory and cognitive function.
The subjects who had reported having more memory problems at the outset of the research were 70 percent more likely than their peers who didn't report initial complaints to have been diagnosed with memory or thinking impairment. Approximately half of those with early memory concerns were found by the end of the study to have mild cognitive impairment or dementia, whereas these conditions affected 38 percent of the participants who felt their memories were functioning well 18 years earlier. When the question about memory problems was asked both 10 years and four years before the study ended, the answers were even better predictors of who would later develop cognitive problems.
While this investigation was limited in scope since it only recruited women, other similar research such as a 2014 study at the University of Kentucky in Lexington showed similar results in both men and women.2 The current study is valuable because it provides more information on the possible long-term nature of cognitive problems and how early they may begin to take shape. None of the volunteers had any signs of dementia or other memory-related conditions prior to the start of the trial, yet a group of them still expressed concern that their memory was not as good as other people's. That might have to do with small changes in their ability to recall or retrieve information that may be too subtle to show up on a test but are noticeable to the individuals themselves.
At any rate, the women with worries about their memory were a very small segment of the overall population sample included, and not all of them eventually experienced cognitive difficulties--and they were 83 at the end of the study period. So even if you find you are sometimes more forgetful than you would like, it does not necessarily mean you are facing a future of cognitive decline. And truly all of us can benefit from keeping our minds active and fit as we get older, even if we feel our mental function is as sharp as ever.
There are plenty of ways to exercise your cognitive abilities, so it's up to you to find a few that you pleasing and do them on a regular basis. Consider taking up crossword puzzles, socializing frequently, trying new hobbies, and spending time with your grandchildren, all of which are enjoyable activities that have been shown in studies to help protect the brain from dementia and other memory problems as we age. And don't forget the health, environment, and nutritional aspects of brain health.
- 1. Kaup, Allison R.; et al. "Memory complaints and risk of cognitive impairment after nearly 2 decades among older women." Neurology. 28 October 2015. Accessed 4 November 2015. http://www.neurology.org/content/early/2015/10/28/WNL.0000000000002153.short
- 2. Kryscio, Richard J.; et al. "Self-reported memory complaints." Neurology. 24 September 2014. Accessed 5 November 2015. http://www.neurology.org/content/83/15/1359.short?sid=668a81ba-1a17-4dff-87c7-70a73ca1270a