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“These intriguing results more fully describe the possible relationship between early signs of memory loss and development of more serious impairment. This is critical to know, as we look for ways to define who is at risk and for whom the earliest interventions might be successful,” says Neil Buckholtz, National Institute on Aging.

NYU—Memory lapses in seniors—losing items, forgetting names—may be a symptom of subjective cognitive impairment (SCI), the earliest sign of cognitive decline. A new study shows that healthy older adults reporting SCI are 4.5 times more likely to develop more pronounced memory loss or dementia.

The long-term study completed by researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center tracked 213 adults with and without SCI over an average of seven years, with data collection taking nearly two decades. Further cognitive decline to the more advanced mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or dementia was observed in 54 percent of SCI persons, while only in 15 percent of persons free of SCI.

“This is the first study to use mild cognitive impairment as well as dementia as an outcome criterion to demonstrate the outcome of  SCI as a possible forerunner of eventual Alzheimer’s disease,” says Barry Reisberg, professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center.

“The findings indicate that a significant percentage of people with early subjective symptoms may experience further cognitive decline, whereas few persons without these symptoms decline,” he adds. “If decline does occur in those without SCI symptoms, it takes considerably longer than for those with subjective cognitive symptoms.”

The study was published recently in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

According to the authors, scientists and physicians can now target the prevention of eventual Alzheimer’s disease in the SCI stage, beginning more than 20 years before dementia becomes evident.

“These intriguing results more fully describe the possible relationship between early signs of memory loss and development of more serious impairment. This is critical to know, as we look for ways to define who is at risk and for whom the earliest interventions might be successful,” says Neil Buckholtz, National Institute on Aging (NIA) which supported the research. “These findings also underscore the importance of clinicians’ asking about, and listening to, concerns regarding changes in cognition and memory among their aging patients.”

Primary funding for this study was provided by NIA, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. Additional funding was provided by Leonard Litwin and the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation.

NYU health news: www.med.nyu.edu/