New research from Albert Einstein College of Medicine reveals a sensitive and straightforward memory test that could predict cognitive impairment in those without thinking and memory problems.
969 participants, who had an average age of 69 with no thinking or memory problems, took the test and were followed for up to a decade.
The study categorised participants into five groups (Stages 0-4) based on their memory test scores.
Stage 0 indicates no memory problems, while Stages 1 and 2 show increasing difficulty with retrieving memories, which can precede dementia by five to eight years. Participants in these stages can still remember items when given cues. Stages 3 and 4 represent people who cannot remember all the items even after being given cues and who have a higher risk of developing cognitive impairment within one to three years before dementia.
Of the participants, 234 people developed cognitive impairment. Adjusting for various factors including age, sex, education, and a gene that affects the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, researchers found that people in Stages 1 and 2 were twice as likely to develop cognitive impairment compared to those in Stage 0, while people in Stages 3 and 4 were three times as likely.
Even after adjusting for biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease, the SOMI system still predicted an increased risk of cognitive impairment. After ten years, the researchers estimated that 72% of those in Stages 3 and 4 would develop cognitive impairment, compared to 57% of those in Stage 2, 35% in Stage 1, and 21% of those in Stage 0.
Ellen Grober, PhD stated, “Detecting cognitive impairment at its earliest stages is beneficial to researchers investigating treatments. It also could benefit those people who are found to be at increased risk by consulting with their physician and implementing interventions to promote healthy brain aging.”
Although the study participants were mostly white and well-educated, the research demonstrates that this test has the potential to identify individuals who are most likely to develop cognitive impairment, making it a vital tool in promoting healthy brain aging.