When you lose your car keys and then go upstairs only to forget why, it’s easy to fear your memory is fading. But instead of being a cause for concern, it seems these ’senior moments’ should be welcomed. It is when you begin to stop noticing your memory lapses that you should actually start worrying, according to scientists.
A study found people tend to become oblivious to memory problems two or three years before the onset of dementia. Researcher Robert Wilson, of Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago, said: ‘Our findings suggest unawareness of one’s memory problems is an inevitable feature of late-life dementia, driven by a build-up of dementia-related changes in the brain.’
The study tracked the mental sharpness of more than 2,000 adults for more than a decade. The men and women had an average age of 76 at the start of the study and showed no signs of memory problems. They underwent annual tests of memory and thinking, and were asked how often they had trouble remembering things and how they rated their memory.
Some 239 participants developed dementia during the study. Initially, their judgment of how good their memory was proved accurate, but it started to drop sharply an average of 2.6 years before they developed clear dementia symptoms. Dr. Wilson said: ‘Although there were individual differences in when the unawareness started and how fast it progressed, virtually everyone had a lack of awareness of their memory problems at some point in the disease’.
Brain examinations of participants who died during the study revealed three dementia-related changes associated with rapid decline of memory awareness, the journal Neurology reported. Dr. Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: The findings highlight the importance of testimony from relatives and close friends at the point of diagnosis to help doctors to gain a clearer picture of someone’s memory problems.’ But she added: This study only focused on memory changes and it will also be important to track other early signs of dementia.’