A ‘feeling’ for dementia could be a warning sign, study shows

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When memory deteriorates according to one’s own perception, but mental performance—following objective criteria—is still within the normal range, this is referred to as ‘subjective cognitive decline’ (SCD).

People with SCD have an increased risk of developing dementia in the long term. However, little is known about the mechanisms underlying subjective memory problems.

In a recent study from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, researchers found that personal perception can be an important sign for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease.

They found that people with subjectively felt memory problems also exhibited on average measurable cognitive deficits that were linked to abnormalities in the spinal fluid.

Early diagnosis and therapy development could benefit from these findings.

The study is published in Neurology. One author is Prof. Michael Wagner.

In the study, the team examined a total of 449 women and men. Their average age was about 70 years.

These people had consulted the clinics for diagnostic clarification of persistent subjective cognitive complaints, usually after a doctor’s referral.

However, in the usual tests, they were assessed as cognitively normal. It was thus determined that they had SCD.

The other 209 study participants were classified as cognitively healthy based on interviews and the same cognitive testing.

The team found that those people who turned to a memory clinic because of SCD had measurable, albeit only mild cognitive deficits.

People considered to be healthy generally scored better in mental performance than memory clinic patients with SCD.

These differences are hardly detectable with standard methods of analysis and in small groups of people.

The team also found that people with SCD had mild cognitive deficits on average and that these deficits were linked to proteins that indicate early Alzheimer’s disease.

Therefore, both the subjective complaints and the minimal objective cognitive deficits are due to Alzheimer’s processes.

That’s not something that can be taken for granted, because there are many reasons for memory problems.

The current results support the concept that SCD can contribute to detect Alzheimer’s disease at an early stage.

However, the team says SCD can certainly only provide a part of the larger picture that is necessary for diagnosis. Doctors will also have to consider biomarkers.

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