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Sep 30, 2014 07:55 AM EDT

Self-Reported Memory Complaints Strong Predictors of Cognitive Impairment Later in Life, Study

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Self-reported memory complaints have been found to be strong predictors of clinical memory impairment later in life, according to a new study by the University of Kentucky's Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.

For the study, researcher's surveyed dementia-free 531 people, with an average age of 73, and questioned them about any changes in their memory in the prior year. The participants were also asked to complete annual memory and thinking tests for an average of 10 years. After death, their brains were scanned for evidence of Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers found that participants who self-reported changes in their memory were nearly three times more likely to suffer from memory and thinking problems. About one in six participants developed dementia in the study and 80 percent of them first reported memory changes.

"What's notable about our study is the time it took for the transition from self-reported memory complaint to dementia or clinical impairment -- about 12 years for dementia and nine years for clinical impairment -- after the memory complaints began," Richard Kryscio, chair of the Department of of Biostatistics and associate director of the Alzheimer's Disease Center, said in a statement. "That suggests that there may be a significant window of opportunity for intervention before a diagnosable problem shows up."

Researchers said that while self-reported memory complaints have been linked to cognitive impairment later in life, there is no need to panic when someone can't recollect where they last left their keys.

"Certainly, someone with memory issues should report it to their doctor so they can be followed. Unfortunately, however, we do not yet have preventative therapies for Alzheimer's disease or other illnesses that cause memory problems," Kryscio said.

The finding is published in the journal of Neurology.

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