Subjective memory concerns could signal dementia to come

05/12/2010 - Articles

Subjective memory concerns could signal dementia to come

By: Susan Aldridge, medical journalist, PhD


Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, may have a very long period of onset. Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) has already been established as a condition which precedes dementia. In MCI, individuals have cognitive test results that are below normal, but they are still capable of undertaking the majority of everyday activities (unlike those with dementia). Around 10-20% of those with MCI will progress to dementia each year.

Now researchers at the University of Bonn have identified a condition that precedes even MCI and is also linked to a higher risk of dementia. With subjective memory impairment (SMI), an individual has problems with their memory that they are aware of and these may, or may not, cause concern. As part of the German Study on Aging, Cognition and Dementia in Primary Care Patients Study, the team looked at nearly 2,500 adults aged 75 or more who did not have MCI at the start of the study.

They were asked whether they thought their memory was getting worse and whether or not this was an issue of concern. The participants were then followed up and tested for MCI and dementia at 18 months and three years. Those individuals who had memory impairment that caused concern at the start of the study had the highest risk for progression to any form of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Those who had memory problems that did not bother them were also at increased risk of dementia. Also, those who had memory impairment at the start and MCI at first follow up had the greatest risk of developing dementia which was often detectable by the time of the second follow up. The findings support the existence of a ‘three stage’ model of dementia, going from SMI, through MCI then to dementia itself. However, not all people with dementia will necessarily go through these three stages. Nor is dementia inevitable if you experience some memory problems. The identification of precursor stages to dementia may be useful, in allowing earlier intervention that could delay the onset or slow the progress of the disease.



Jessen F et al Prediction of dementia by subjective memory impairment: effects of severity and temporal association with cognitive impairment Archives of General Psychiatry April 2010;67:414-422


Created on: 05/12/2010
Reviewed on: 05/12/2010

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