Alzheimer's Study Cautions Against Dismissing Cognitive Complaints

Though memory concerns voiced by older adult patients often get dismissed as normal cognitive aging, a study from two national centers devoted to Alzheimer's disease research suggests cognitive complaints from at least two sources can accurately predict a non-demented patient's risk of developing dementia.

Though memory concerns voiced by older adult patients often get dismissed as normal cognitive aging, a study from two national centers devoted to Alzheimer’s disease research suggests cognitive complaints from at least two sources can accurately predict a non-demented patient’s risk of developing dementia.

For their “Source of Cognitive Complaints Predicts Diagnostic Conversion Differentially Among Nondemented Adults” study published in the July 18, 2013, edition of Alzheimer’s & Dementia, Katherine A. Gifford, PsyD, and colleagues from the Vanderbilt Memory & Alzheimer’s Center in Nashville, TN, joined researchers from the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center to evaluate 6,000 patients between the ages of 55 and 90 years old with a diagnosis of normal cognition or mild cognitive impairment at baseline.

Reviewing patient data between 2005 and 2012, the authors discovered that memory concerns from both a patient diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment and a loved one were linked to a threefold risk of developing mild cognitive impairment or dementia over an approximate two-year period compared to patients with neither a subjective nor an informant complaint. That association was even greater for patients deemed cognitively normal at baseline with two sources expressing memory concerns, as they showed a fourfold risk of dementia progression compared to their non-complaint counterparts.

However, the authors found that cognitive complaints from the patient alone related inconsistently to diagnostic outcome, which they said “highlight(s) the need for obtaining informant corroboration to enhance prognosis and distinguish underlying pathological processes from normal cognitive aging.”

In a press release, Gifford concluded that the study results “show that a cognitive complaint should be taken seriously, particularly with a mutual complaint; that’s certainly a time when further follow-up or referral to a specialist is warranted.”