By Robert Preidt
WEDNESDAY, March 18, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers say they have developed a new scoring system to help identify seniors who are at high risk for memory and thinking problems that might lead to dementia.
"Our goal is to identify memory issues at the earliest possible stages," wrote lead researcher Dr. Ronald Petersen, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
The study looked at almost 1,500 people between the ages of 70 and 89. They were all from Minnesota. None had memory or thinking problems at the start of the study. They were given memory and thinking tests every 15 months for an average of almost five years.
During that time, 401 (28 percent) of the participants developed early memory and thinking problems.
"Understanding what factors can help us predict who will develop this initial stage of memory and thinking problems, called mild cognitive impairment [MCI], is crucial, because people with MCI have an increased risk of developing dementia," he added.
The scoring system developed by Peterson and colleagues takes into account factors easily found in medical records -- such as years of education, history of stroke or diabetes, and smoking -- as well as symptoms of depression and anxiety, and tests of thinking abilities.
Each factor has a score based on how much it contributes to the risk of memory and thinking problems. For example, a diagnosis of diabetes before age 75 increases the risk score by 14 points, while having 12 or fewer years of education increases the risk score by two points, according to the researchers.
In this study, women with the lowest risk had scores of less than 27, while those with the highest risk had scores of more than 46. For both women and men, those with the highest risk scores were seven times more likely to develop early memory and thinking troubles than those with the lowest scores.
"This risk scale may be an inexpensive and easy way for doctors to identify people who should undergo more advanced testing for memory issues or may be better candidates for clinical trials," Petersen said.