Do subjective memory complaints predict cognitive dysfunction over time? A six-year follow-up of the Maastricht Aging Study

M.E.M. Mol*, M.P.J. van Boxtel, D. Willems, J. Jolles

*Corresponding author for this work

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Background Middle-aged and older people often worry that their perceived diminishing memory function may indicate incipient dementia. Objectives The present study addresses questions regarding subjective memory complaints as a predictor of lower performance on cognitive tasks. Also, in participants with subjective memory complaints it was investigated, whether trying to keep mentally active improved memory function. Characteristics of the participants who were and were not interested in an intervention to decrease worries and to improve memory in daily life were determined. Methods Data were obtained from a large longitudinal study: the Maastricht Aging Study, involving 557 participants aged 55 to 85 years. Follow-up measurement was performed after 6 years. Outcome variables were simple, complex and general information processing speed and immediate and delayed recall. Results At baseline, forgetfulness was associated with a slower general information processing and delayed recall. At the six-year follow-up, being forgetful was not associated with a significant change in cognitive performance. Taking steps to remain cognitively active was not a predictor of better performance on cognitive tasks at baseline or at the six-year follow-up. Conclusion Being forgetful might be an indicator of slower general information processing speed and delayed recall at baseline but does not predict cognitive change over 6 years in older adults. However, the effects are rather small and cannot directly be generalized to applications in clinical settings. Other factors, such as depression and anxiety might also underlie the cause of the forgetfulness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)432-441
JournalInternational Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2006

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