MINNEAPOLIS -- New research suggests that people without dementia who begin reporting memory issues may be more likely to develop dementia later, even if they have no clinical signs of the disease.

“What’s notable about our study is the time it took for this transition to dementia or clinical impairment to occur -- about 12 years for dementia and 9 years for clinical impairment -- after the memory complaints began,” said Richard J. Kryscio, PhD, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky. “These findings suggest that there may be a window for intervention before a diagnosable problem shows up.”

For the study, published in the online edition of the journal Neurology, 531 people with a mean age of 73 years and free of dementia were asked yearly if they noticed any changes in their memory. They were also given annual memory and thinking tests for an average of 10 years. After death, 243 of the participants’ brains were examined for evidence of Alzheimer’s disease.

Of the participants, 56% reported changes in their memory, at an average age of 82 years. The study found that people who reported memory complaints were nearly 3 times more likely to develop memory and thinking problems. About 1 in 6 participants developed dementia during the study, and 80% of those first reported memory changes.

“Our study adds strong evidence to the idea that memory complaints are common among older adults and are sometimes indicators of future memory and thinking problems,” said Dr. Kryscio. “Doctors should not minimise these complaints and should take them seriously. However, memory complaints are not a cause for immediate alarm since impairment could be many years away. Unfortunately, we do not yet have preventive therapies for Alzheimer’s disease and other illnesses that cause memory problems.”

SOURCE: American Academy of Neurology