Americans in 70s Face Mild Memory Loss
Study Shows About 5 Million Over Age 70 Have Mild Cognitive Impairment
March 17, 2008 -- A new study shows about one in five Americans over age 70
has mild cognitive impairment without dementia, and a large portion of them may
progress to dementia.
"These findings illustrate that nearly every family will be faced with
the challenges of caring for a family member with some form of memory
impairment," says researcher Brenda Plassman, PhD, associate research
professor of psychiatry at Duke University, in a news release.
"Even among the people age 71-79, a sizeable number had cognitive
impairment," says Plassman. "This is an age at which most people expect
to have many productive years ahead."
Based on the results of this study, researchers estimate that 5.4 million
adults (22.2%) age 71 or older have mild cognitive impairment that does not
meet the level of dementia. This may include problems with memory, attention,
language, judgment, or communication. But is not severe enough to affect their
ability to complete daily activities and may not be noticeable.
That's in addition to the estimated 3.4 million Americans who have dementia,
which is a more severe form of memory loss that affects the ability to function
Memory Loss More Common With Aging
Researchers say that although dementia has been widely studied, it's unclear
how many older people have milder forms of age-related memory loss or cognitive
impairment. Previous studies in other countries have estimated that 3%-29% of
the elderly are affected by cognitive impairment without dementia.
In the study, researchers examined 856 participants from the National Health
and Retirement Study over a period of nearly five years.
The results, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, show that
22% of the elderly participants had cognitive impairment that did not meet the
criteria for dementia.
The study also shows that 12% of those with mild cognitive impairment
progressed to dementia and 8% died annually.
Researchers estimate that nearly a quarter of cases of mild cognitive
impairment are tied to underlying chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes
and heart failure. The researchers write that their findings "suggest that
the number of individuals with cognitive impairment without dementia in the
United States is about 70% higher than that with dementia ..."
"As the population ages and works longer, understanding the extent of
cognitive impairment in the older population is critically important," says
Richard Suzman, PhD, director of the National Institute of Aging's Behavioral
and Social Research Program, which funded the study.
"Research is now beginning to suggest that interventions -- such as
controlling hypertension and diabetes or perhaps cognitive training -- might
help maintain or improve mental abilities with age," says Suzman.