Most Patients Who Have 'Senior Moments' Don't Develop Dementia

Just a fifth of people older than 75 years who experience "senior moments" of forgetfulness, memory lapses, and poor judgment go on to develop serious brain-related disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.

Only about 20% of people age 75 and older who experience “senior moments” of forgetfulness, memory lapses, and poor judgment go on to develop serious brain-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, according to a German study published in the March/April 2014 Annals of Family Medicine. Many will see their symptoms remain the same or stop with the “senior moments” a part of a condition called “mild cognitive impairment” (MCI).

Lead researchers Hanna Kaduszkiewicz, MD, of the Institute of Primary Medical Care in Kiel, Germany, said patients should not be alarmed unnecessarily if they receive a diagnosis of MCI. More than 350 patients with MCI aged 75 years and older were studied for 3 years through follow-up interviews.

The researchers retroactively split the patients into 4 groups representing remittent, fluctuating, stable and progressive courses of MCI. During the study, 42% of patients returned to normal mental function, 36% retained their mild impairment, and only 22% developed dementia. Furthermore, 21% of participants fluctuated between MCI and normal mental functioning, and 15% continued to have MCI that did not get worse.

Study participants who were most likely to develop dementia were those who also had signs of depression, more severe cognitive impairment, and those who were older.

“In primary care, about one-quarter of patients with MCI have progression to dementia within the next 3 years,” the researchers wrote. “Assessments of memory function and depressive symptoms are helpful in predicting a progressive vs a remittent course.”