Looking at cognitive loss and how it affects mortality


Scientists trying to figure out the effect of memory on how much longer an older person will live say memory loss and problems with language and decision-making were both associated with increased mortality, but the association is stronger for people whose memory is intact.

“Currently there is little information about death and the types of memory loss that affect many millions of Americans,” Dr. Maria Vassilaki of the Mayo Clinic said in a statement about the study she conducted with colleagues. The results are to be presented at the 66th annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Philadelphia, which runs from Saturday through May 3.

Mild brain impairment often is a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease; there are two main kinds of that impairment -- one marked by memory loss, the other by declining abilities in language, decision-making and attention.


For the study, the researchers followed people ages 70 to 89 in Olmsted County in Minnesota over about six years. Of them, 862 had mild cognitive impairment, and 1,292 did not. Of the 862 people, 331 died. Of the other group, 224 died.

That’s an 80% higher death rate for those with mild cognitive impairment than for those without, the researchers said. People who had mild cognitive impairment without memory loss had more than twice the death rate during the study than those without any cognitive loss, the researchers said.

“We will continue to study the how and why regarding the relationship between memory decline, thinking decline and death,” Vassilaki said.

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