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Even mild cognitive impairment shortens lifespan

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Trouble with memory and thinking, known as cognitive impairment, is linked to higher risk of death. According to new research, even mild forms of memory loss can shorten lifespan to the same extent as other chronic diseases including diabetes and chronic heart failure.

Death rates higher with severe memory loss

Researchers from Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University studied 3, 957 people between the ages of 60 to 102 years to find how memory loss, even mild can lead to earlier death.

Patients, followed in primary care clinics from 1991 to 1993 were completed the Short Portable Mental Status Questionnaire to measure their mental status. Among those tested, 3,157 had no signs of cognitive impairment, 533 had mild impairment, and 267 had moderate to severe impairment.

During the 13 year follow-up, death rates were 68 percent for those with mild forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating and other problems with thought processes, which are signs of mental decline. The death rate among patients with severe cognitive decline was 79%. In the group with no memory problems, 57 percent died.

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Previous studies have associated cognitive impairment with an increased risk for death, but most of this work focused on patients with Alzheimer disease and subjects in research centers.

The patients in our study better reflect the general public, displaying no indications of disease or mild, moderate or severe cognitive impairment," said Regenstrief investigator Greg A. Sachs, M.D., professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

Difficulty with memory can include aging, depression, brain trauma, some medications, drug abuse, stroke, fibromyalgia, sleep disorders and alcoholism.

The finding is significant, given the aging population, note the researchers. According to the authors, screening for cognitive impairment in primary care settings can help patients and families make decisions that include advance care planning, cancer screening and medications.

The study is published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The finding highlights the importance of recognizing the risk of dying from cognitive decline that affects memory and thinking. Cognitive impairment, even mild, shortens lifespan the same as other chronic diseases according to the authors.

Image credit: morguefile