Recurrent momentary bouts of forgetfulness and absent-mindedness are not the first signs of dementia for most people, a reassuring new study suggests. Researchers looked at data on more than 350 men and women ages 75 and older and followed them for three years. The study participants had been displaying symptoms of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition characterized by cognitive problems greater than normal for an individual’s age, but not serious enough to interfere with the activities of daily living.
Over the course of the study, 42 percent of participants regained normal cognitive function, 36 percent continued to have MCI, but got no worse, and just 22 percent went on to develop dementia, according to results published in the March/April 2014 issue of the Annals of Family Medicine. Of the 36 percent of participants who continued to have MCI, 21 percent fluctuated between having cognitive symptoms and having normal mental functioning. Symptoms of MCI in the other 15 percent continued, but got no worse. The researchers found that study participants most likely to develop dementia were those who also had signs of depression or who were older. Patients should not be alarmed unnecessarily by receiving a diagnosis of MCI, the study’s lead author said.