Pattern Predicts Dementia Onset and Long Term Care Need

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Problems carrying out daily chores or enjoying hobbies could identify people with mild cognitive impairments that are likely to progress more quickly to Alzheimer's dementia.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is "a condition in which a person has problems with memory, language, or another mental function severe enough to be noticeable to other people and to show up on tests, but not serious enough to interfere with daily life." This type of mental state is considered a risk factor for dementia, the longest and most costly of all long-term care needs according to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance.

Some scientists studies have found that about 10 percent to 15 percent of those with MCI will progress to dementia each year. The new study which appears in the September issue of the Archives of Neurology, sought to determine if telltale signs within MCI could identify those individuals who would progress more rapidly to full-blown dementia.

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Researchers collected data on people with mild cognitive impairment and evaluated these individuals using brain scans and cognition tests. Over the next two years of follow-up, some 25 percent of the individuals did go on to develop dementia.

The researchers noted that if an older adult is starting to display problems in daily life, such as problems shopping independently, problems managing their own finances, problems performing household chores, and problems maintaining their hobbies, they are more likely to develop a dementia within several years.

Dr. Ronald C. Petersen, director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., agreed that, despite the lack of effective treatments, spotting Alzheimer's disease early remains important. "If people in the family start to recognize a change in memory/learning patterns, that might be sufficient to identify someone who could develop Alzheimer's disease," Peterson said. "Don't wait until the person is having trouble driving, is having trouble paying their bills or having trouble functioning in the community -- that's dementia," he said. "This study tells us that we can identify important symptoms earlier and it may be worthwhile doing so."

Written by Jesse Slome from the American Association for Long Term Care Insurance
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