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Aging and Memory Impairment


Do elders without a diagnosis of dementia experience memory loss or impairment? If so, is the loss a precursor to dementia or does it lead to that diagnosis?

Brenda Plassman, Ph.D. associate research professor of psychiatry at Duke University is the lead author of a study on memory loss among elders. There is a team of researchers involved in the study from Duke University Medical Center, University of Michigan, University of Iowa, University of Southern California, and the Rand Corporation. It is published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

According to the study:

  • More than a third of people over age 70 have some form of memory loss.

  • The researchers estimate that 5.4 million over age 70 have memory loss which disrupts their regular routine but is not severe enough to affect their ability to complete activities of daily living(ADLS).

  • The frequency of memory loss increases with advancing age and with fewer years of education.
  • Individuals with cognitive impairment (without dementia) progressed to a dementia at a rate of about 12 % per year.
  • Some subypes of cognitive impairment, without dementia, progressed to dementia at much higher rates.
  • Nearlhy a quarter of those with memory loss without dementia also had a chronic medical condition which may have been a cause of the cognitive impariment.

Some conclusions and possible outcomes:

  • Many people expect to have productive years ahead of them. Memory loss will make this propect less viable.

  • Physicians should be alert to this issue as they assess and treat individuals for medical problems.

  • Elders may be unable to adequately report their symptoms to others(family and MDs).

  • Elders may be unable to retain and to implement elements of their treatment plan.

  • Interventions in medical problems may help to maintain or improve mental abilities.