Our Early Memory Decline May Predict Dementia

Christine Kennard Health Pro
  • The news that a major study has found that memory in many people starts to deteriorate from around 45 years of age is worrying. Until now, around 60 years of age tended to been viewed as the age at which the brain begins to lose its sharpness for memory, powers of reasoning and understanding.


    The research, called the Whitehall 11 Study, is an ongoing follow up of what was at first over ten thousand Civil Servants. This one was carried out on 7,000 Civil Servants aged between 45 and 70. Five thousand men and two thousand women took verbal and written tests on three occasions over a 10-year period. Over the decade, there was a 3.6% decline in the mental reasoning of men and of women aged 45 to 49. When they tested the 65 to 70 year group Men had a decline of 9.6% while women scored better at 7.4%.

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    The research, led by Archana Singh-Manoux from the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health in France, and University College London in the UK, are concerned by their findings. People whose brains appear to deteriorate fastest may be more likely to develop dementia in later life and with the demographics of increased longevity that is a huge burden for future generations.


    There are a number of challenges that this study has for us. One is to change the stereotype of old age as doddery old people wandering around rambling and confused. Most people in their 50s, 60s and 70s are active, have interesting social and work lives, and make many contributions to their families and community. This vision and model of aging is also central to the prevention of dementia.


    Dementia Prevention is Easier for Some

    For some people the ‘prevention' model to prevent or delay the onset of cognitive deterioration, Alzheimer's and vascular dementia is so much harder. Socio-economic membership does matter. In other words, people with access to better education, good housing, healthier foodstuffs, good preventative healthcare screenings and treatments of early stage heart, kidney and respiratory disease have a massive advantage.


    Recognising early symptoms of Alzheimer's and other types of dementia that are not wholly understood and have no cure, throw up ethical issues about early screening. However screening does allow early intervention with drugs that can slow degenerative symptoms. All the time we are learning more about the brain, genetics, disease prosesses and treatment interventions for them.


Published On: January 17, 2012